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Reese Witherspoon and Sofía Vergara flail and fumble in ‘Hot Pursuit’

Hot PursuitSofía Vergara and Reese Witherspoon are two actresses who have charm and humor to spare. In their best work, they have proven themselves to be bright and capable comediennes. For some reason, together they seem to drain each other of their respective charms. In Anne Fletcher’s 2015 comedy Hot Pursuit, the two are paired for a strangely dour and unfunny comedy that feels as if it works to make the ladies as unlikable as possible.

Witherspoon stars Rose Cooper, a second-generation cop who is assigned to protect the widow of a drug boss (Vergara). It’s a formulaic buddy comedy that hopes to exploit the odd couple pairing of Vergara and Witherspoon. Witherspoon’s Rose Cooper is a priggish, uptight dummy. She’s pathologically by-the-book, and her obsessive attention is supposed to be funny, but it comes off sad, and then there’s Witherspoons Texas twang, which is broad and jokey.

Vergara, on the other hand, is tasked to play the comic foil to Witherspoon’s straight man, and she’s stranded by a terrible script and Fletcher’s lazy direction, which essentially results in Vergara playing a variation on Gloria Pritchett from Modern Family, but without her wit.

The convoluted plot has Rose thrown into a nutso caper in which she and Vergara’s Daniella are running away from members of a drug cartel as well as a band of crooked cops. On their way to Dallas, the two run into episodes of hilarity such as having a semi crash into their convertible setting off a mushroom cloud of cocaine, pretending to be lesbian lovers to distract Jim Gaffigan’s good ole boy, or commandeering a tour bus of seniors to escape from the assassins.

Like most buddy comedies, the energy from the story comes from the relationship between the two leads. And both Witherspoon and Vergara work hard, but because they aren’t reined in by their director, their performances devolve from simply broad mugging to lots of screaming. As the story chugs along, there are some predictable twists that are meant to be shocking, but because the screenplay feels like it’s been spit out of a machine, each turn feels ready made and cued.

Underneath the layers of mess, the script tries to make some point about dismissing women. Daniella is seen as an empty-headed trophy wife, but there are “layers” to her (but the shading of her character is so questionable, that one wonders if it wasn’t better to just maintain her as an empty-headed bimbo). And because Rose is short and pretty, she’s easily written off as a cute nothing. Both women prove to be more than just stereotypes, but they do so by the end of the movie, and at that point, it isn’t really clear if anyone will care.

Aside from the poor pacing and explosive mugging, there’s also questionable choices in the humor. We’re subject to lots of racist stereotypes of Latinx folks, there’s a shot of transphobic humor in the beginning, plus there’s a sprinkling of gay panic, too. In 1987, these jokes wouldn’t feel out of place, but in 2015, they contribute to the general staleness of the film.

The end of the movie has some bloopers – and to be honest, the loose playfulness of the costars on set is far funnier than anything that the two ladies did on screen. It’s too bad that we have to wait to the end of the movie to see Witherspoon and Vergara be funny.

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Why the Emmys and Sofia Vergara got it wrong last night

I like Sofia Vergara – in fact, I’m a huge fan of her’s, and think she’s a fantastic comedienne. Unfortunately, last night at the Emmys, she allowed herself to be used in yet another of the seemingly unending list of jokes that poke fun at her physical attributes. While Emmy chairman Bruce Rosenblum droned on about the Emmys, Vergara stood on a rotating platform – kinda like a mannequin. Well, maybe exactly like a mannequin. Because it’s Sofia Vergara, she did what she could with the bit with some nifty and subtle facial expressions to inject some irony into the silly bit, but overall, it was tone deaf, regressive, silly and dull.

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Folks have already taken to social media to voice their displeasure at the gratuitous display, and Vergara herself even defended the skit, scolding the scolds by saying we’re humorless and we just don’t get that one can be hot and funny and make fun of oneself all at the same time. I respectfully disagree. Like I said, Sofia Vergara is probably the funniest woman working on TV today – and to a certain extent, a lot of her comedy comes from her accent and her looks. But in the context of her show Modern Family, her comedic persona is given shading and depth (no, really, I promise). On Modern Family, Vergara’s Gloria is a sarcastic, articulate, and witty wonder, whose perfect comic timing works parallel with the sight gags she’s often subjected to; on the Emmy stage last night, all of that context is scrubbed away, and all we got was Vergara, looking hot, in a tight dress, being displayed for effect. And the lowest hanging fruit of this whole thing is that if you have Sofia Vergara, you don’t need to solely zero in on her looks, at the expense of her other talents; had this been a male comic, none of this nonsense would happen, no matter how good looking he is (though the rub is male comics are allowed more leeway when it comes to looks than their female colleagues). If given fun and smart material, Vergara could’ve done something much more substantial or profound and funny than just simply stand on a pedestal and rotate.

Some argue that the joke was ironic and satire. Yeah, well, then the joke didn’t land because you don’t get to be sexist and then say, “but wait a minute – we were being ironic” – sorry, hipsters try that line every day and it doesn’t work. Others will say that yet again, feminists are poo pooing on someone’s parade, bringing down our hammer of humorlessness. But I never bought into the idea that feminists aren’t funny – after all, Kathy Griffin, Whoopi Goldberg, Tina Fey, Lily Tomlin, and Kathy Najimy are all hilarious funny feminists who don’t deny their physical beauty nor their comedic talents – they work hand-in-hand. And that’s the case for most of Vegara’s work, too – she’s a combo of both Ricky and Lucy. But last night was a misstep in an otherwise hilarious career.

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