Saturday 27 June 2015

Hot Pursuit (2015) - Movie Review

Buddy comedies have been around since the idea of ‘comedy’ was given a name and a tangible concept. Hell, buddy cop movies have probably been around for longer than actual police enforcement, the idea is that old: Write two characters that are diametric opposites of each other, put them in a situation that forces them to work together to reach point B; instant comedy… supposedly. The fact that Danny Glover’s immortal line "I’m getting too old for this shit" has since gotten more screen time than Glover in his entire filmography should be a good indicator that, if you’re going to attempt this kind of story nowadays, you absolutely have to bring something new to the table. The last buddy film I watched was last year’s Let’s Be Cops, and the less said about that bit of unfortunate release timing, the better. The last good buddy film I remember watching was Hot Fuzz, which pretty much skewered every action film trope it could find and managed to outperform a large number of them at the same time. Based on the trailer and premise of today’s film, something tells me that we won’t be so lucky this time around.

The plot: Rose (Reese Witherspoon) is a police officer who follows police procedure to the letter, to the point of being extremely awkward around people. Her reputation after setting a man on fire with a taser doesn’t help with that. She gets called in to escort Felipe and his wife Daniella (Sofía Vergara) to Dallas so that he can testify against drug kingpin Vincente Cortez (Joaquín Cosio). When Felipe and Rose’s partner both get gunned down, Rose is forced to take Daniella to Dallas herself despite her protests.

Even if the trailer jokes didn’t fill me with confidence, I definitely like the cast list for this movie. Witherspoon’s performance in the amazing Wild is still fresh in my memory in terms of efficacy and Vergara was fun in the episodes of Modern Family that I’ve seen not to mention films like Chef, which I had misgivings about but certainly not about her. On top of that, I spotted a couple of underdog stand-up comedians in the form of Jim Gaffigan and Mike Birbiglia in the film. Unfortunately, Birbiglia may be doing his best but he’s given a pretty badly written character that’s only in the movie for about a minute of screen time, if that much, and pretty much all of Gaffigan’s role is in the trailer, although I will give credit to him for being one of the few characters in this film that had a semblance of a head on their shoulders, at least for a little while.

Then we get to our mains, and it is here that the whole buddy thing completely collapses in on itself. Witherspoon, for whatever reason, is sporting a pretty atrocious Southern accent that sounds like what redneck stereotypes make fun of themselves, but then again that might be to distract from how flatly her character is written. One of the big missteps with films like these is that, instead of personalities, characters get given jokes to associate with, which largely results in getting a lot of repetitive dialogue that centres mainly on those jokes. Rose is an uptight cop and a tomboy, while Vergara is Mexican and shrill; write dialogue based solely around those traits, with maybe one or two lines each detailing backstories that are actually surprisingly similar to each other’s, and you’ve got your movie in a nutshell. I would attribute the similarities to being an attempt to show some kind of connection between them, but quite frankly these writers are nowhere near clever enough to do that on purpose.

In terms of plot progression and jokes, the writing is so stock that Ed Wood would rise from the grave just so he could splice it into his next film. If you’ve seen any films starring cops before, chances are you’ll be able to pick out every step the film takes right down to the ‘shock twist’ of who the dirty cops are. The jokes hit that usual trough of not only being telegraphed to the point of reaching anti-spontaneity, but also drag on far beyond their welcome, making the film look like a desperate stand-up who is being held at gunpoint to make the audience laugh at any cost. And then there’s the rampant sexism on display as well, no doubt something to be expected when one of your writers worked on Two Broke Girls. As much as my Fury Road review may disagree with me on this, I generally don’t like talking about gender politics as a whole because it is a serious minefield to navigate through and I don’t usually consider myself intelligent enough to say the 'right' thing when discussing it. Usually.

Then in walks this film and tries to outdo whatever kind of progress we’ve made as a species in terms of men and women having any kind of understanding of each other. I knew things were going to be bad from the gag in the trailer about over-explaining what a period is to gross out the cops, but had I known that the actual scene would be longer, I would have counted my blessings. This is the kind of mentality that thinks jokes about men shopping for tampons is still a fresh idea and not something that died back in the 90’s. Not to say that men are the only ones badly represented here, lest the MRAs rear their ugly head yet again, as Rose and Danielle set feminism back about 50 years or so as well. You like jokes about how women be having lots of shoes, or how the uppity one needs a man in her life to stop being so uppity? Well, you’re in luck because we have all that right here.

Watching this film, I felt like my head was going to explode from all the dead air generated by the jokes. The feeling of watching a comedy and just not laughing ranks up there as one of the worst feelings there is that doesn’t involve literal death, and with this one it felt like I was being physically assaulted with how vapid it all was. And yet, as I write this review an hour or so after watching the film at the cinema, I’m finding it surprisingly difficult to recollect anything specific about it. Details about the plot and the stupid jokes just started sapping away from my memory as soon as I left the cinema, to the point where I get the feeling that I’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg in terms of this film’s problems; it’s just that I literally cannot recall the rest of them. As much as I consider a film that induces anger to be far worse than a film that just bores the viewer, there’s a definite amount of fail present in the notion that you can sit down and watch a film for an hour and a half, and then completely forget it moments later and effectively having wasted your time even more than if you just hated it.

All in all, this is all kinds of bad. The writing is uninspired, both in terms of plot and humour, the actors have little to no chemistry with each other on screen and the jokes don’t realize exactly how antiquated they really are and just trot on screen with no real effort put into making them work. However, as awful as this film is in the moment, it is extremely forgettable at the same time, meaning that you won’t even remember most of it within moments of leaving the cinema; it’s like an attempt to recreate the Two Minutes Hate and stretch it out to feature length. As much as I would love to champion a film with female leads, considering how under-represented they are in action films, I implore you to check out something like Spy or Mad Max: Fury Road instead if that’s what you’re after; this is the biggest waste of film time so far this year, and easily one of the worst offenders in that regard since I started listing these movies.

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