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Arrest this movie: ‘Hot Pursuit’ is criminally unfunny

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Apparently, comedy means two annoying people yelling at each other.

Two stars

Hot Pursuit Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara, John Carroll Lynch. Directed by Anne Fletcher. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.

It’s never a good sign when the funniest parts of a comedy are the bloopers that play over the credits. The outtakes at the end of Hot Pursuit don’t even generate a lot of laughs, but they’re hilarious compared to the 80-some minutes preceding them, in which Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara flail their way through a formulaic buddy movie. It’s sad to see these two talented actresses adrift in this terrible action-comedy, which combines weak, repetitive jokes with desultory cop-drama plot points. Neither star manages to rise to the occasion, with Witherspoon struggling to find the humor and the emotion in her high-strung, rules-obsessed Officer Cooper and Vergara settling for screeching most of her lines as Daniella Riva, the sultry trophy wife of a drug kingpin’s top lieutenant.

Cooper and Riva cross paths because Riva’s husband has agreed to testify against his boss, and Cooper is assigned as an escort for his wife. But when teams of corrupt cops and the drug lord’s henchmen both come after them (quickly killing Cooper’s partner and Riva’s husband), the mismatched pair has to go on the lam, avoid their pursuers and get to the courthouse in time to clear their names. The plot is mostly predictable, and the one slightly surprising third-act twist only emphasizes how half-baked the thriller elements are. The rote plot mechanics leave plenty of room for comedy, but Witherspoon and Vergara have minimal chemistry, and the jokes mostly rely on tired gender stereotypes (men get flustered when women talk about their periods!) and jabs at Cooper’s short stature and Riva’s curves and incomprehensible accent.

The movie doesn’t have to make a feminist statement in order to be funny, but director Anne Fletcher (27 Dresses, The Guilt Trip) and screenwriters David Feeney and John Quaintance (both sitcom veterans) don’t have any clever ideas about what to do with their premise, and Hot Pursuit attempts to coast on the charm of its stars. Like recent, similarly lazy action-comedies Identity Thief and Ride Along, Hot Pursuit presents two annoying people and has them yell at each other for an hour or so, then after they get shot at by generic bad guys, they decide that they like each other after all. Too bad the audience doesn’t end up feeling the same way.

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