On the heels of critical acclaim for her role in Wild (2014), Reese Witherspoon has chosen to not only produce but share top billing in the most paltry female-led comedy this year.

Hot Pursuit has all of the trappings for success but what is delivered to audiences is nothing but a collection of serious misfires. Touted to be a “buddy comedy”, there is a seriously lack of amicable relations between Witherspoon and her co-star, Sofia Vergara. A few meagre laughs get peppered into 88 minutes of non-stop nothingness, leaving the audience to keep holding on in hopes that they may be rewarded for their efforts. Sadly, there is little to find rewarding or redeeming in a film that seems more like a hopeless rehash of The Heat than a funny fare is believes itself to be.

The story pairs the straight-laced cop Cooper (Witherspoon) with a crime boss’ widow, Daniela Riva (Vergara). It’s Cooper’s first assignment back out in the field after an unfortunate taser incident and she’s ready to take the helm in escorting Riva from San Antonio to Dallas where Riva will testify against her husband’s nefarious drug lord boss (Joaquin Cosio). What should be a quick drive turns into 24 hours of madcap escape tactics as Cooper and Riva are pursued by dirty cops and Cortez’s henchmen, all bent on silencing both women so Cortez can walk free.

Hot Pursuit

Pithy plot aside, there are some fundamental errors with Hot Pursuit. We can overlook love interest/muscle-bound meathead Randy’s (EastEnder’s Robert Kazinsky) horrendous Southern accent. We can forgive some odd narrative jumps and hollow jokes. The biggest perpetrator here is the utter ineptitude that comes with writing the characters of Cooper and Riva. What screenwriters David Feeney and John Quaintance have seemingly forgotten is that film-going audiences have an appetite for well-rounded female characters. Instead, the duo have labored under the belief that all women know how to do is rely of sex and gender based tomfoolery to get out of trouble (lesbian and menstruation jokes are plentiful) and are really only worthy when judged on their looks: a majority of the punchlines rest on height, age and physical qualities.

Vergara has naturally been poured into a skin-tight dress and directed to amp up her Colombian accent for comic effect. It’s a schtick that is exhaustinglyrote for her; we’ve seen this act too many times to count. Meanwhile, Witherspoon has been made to look like the dowdiestbelle at the ball with wooden dialogue to match. Both women deliver incredibly shrill performances. Their verbal sparring begins to feel like a knife to the ears and, when the film is more than halfway through without a sign of it letting up, there is no reason to have any faith these two women could ever be believable “buddies”. Every moment reads as forced, shallow and full of inertia; Witherspoon and Vergara look like they’ve been sucking on lemons just before director Anne Fletcher yelled “Action!”

Hot Pursuit is a chaotic affair. In spite of all of its shortcomings, what seems to be the biggest casualty is the wasted potential of Witherspoon and Vergara. Both women have shown us their funny-bones. Audiences have to give each woman their respective vote of confidence. How, then, could we be given such a spectacular misfire? In the end, Hot Pursuit is nothing but a hot mess, better left to watch on a rainy night in when boredom abounds than in the theatre on opening night.