Lost in Space: Hot Pursuit

05/08/2015 8:00 AM |


Hot Pursuit
Directed by Anne Fletcher
Opens May 8

Anne Fletcher is partially responsible for some of my favorite moments in popular culture over the past couple of decades. She helped choreograph the musical sequence in the underrated Danny Boyle flop A Life Less Ordinary; she worked on the sterling Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode,  “Once More with Feeling”; she also contributed to the retro stylings of Catch Me If You Can and Down with Love and (presumably) the dancier moments of Walk Hard and 40-Year-Old Virgin. So much joy in a single career!

As a director, though: yeesh. It’s not necessarily that Hot Pursuit is any worse than 27 Dresses, The Proposal, or The Guilt Trip. It might even be a little better, with Reese Witherspoon getting a few laughs as a diminutive, uptight cop in over her head escorting a hostile witness (Sofia Vergara), the wife of an executed drug dealer, to possible safety (as they’re mistakenly tagged as fugitives, news reports keep underestimating Witherspoon’s height and overestimating Vergara’s age). It’s certainly easy to like, or at least easy to want to like: here is a female buddy comedy also directed by a woman, in that sense one-upping the last big female buddy comedy, 2013’s The Heat. That’s the only place it manages that feat; for a choreographer, Fletcher has real trouble rooting her movie in physical space.

Some of it is just lazy over-cutting: the movie opens with a series of shots of Witherspoon’s character as a little girl tagging along in the back of her dad’s police car, offering a brief history of childhood and beyond through jump cuts. It’s a neat visual idea that Fletcher proceeds to fuss with by not keeping the shots parallel. Rather than fixing the camera and let the changing surroundings get the laughs, she can’t resist cutting in to one shots and slightly different angles, ruining the rhythm.

That’s sub-optimal comedy, to be sure, but not as disorienting or strange as some of the movie’s other fumbles. At one point, a bad guy pulls a gun on the women in the middle of a casino. About half of the extras in the scene seem to be scattering in fear, albeit slowly, while the rest mill about in the background (even stranger, the people standing behind the bad guy, who presumably have a less clear view of his gun, are the ones running away, while the people facing him are the nonchalant ones). In that scene, it doesn’t affect the comedy much, because there isn’t much of it. But when so much of the movie depends on physical action—both straight up slapstick as well as the bumbling-action variety—it adds up. Some of the movie’s slapstick makes no spatial sense; twice, gags revolve around gunshots going off and no one realizing where the bullets went for minutes on end. Are the characters comically oblivious, or are they long-dead ghosts?

Ever the committed pros, Witherspoon and Vergara vamp gamely, like they’re trying to let the audience in on what their surroundings are supposed to be—like they’re doing improv on a bare stage and need to fill in the gaps. Late in the movie, they tussle over a gun, and Witherspoon cries out “I have to get the gun!” sounding unaware that the movie has actual visible props. They attack Fletcher’s poorly staged set pieces with such vigor you almost expect them to ask the audience for a suggestion.

It can’t help that some of the action has clearly been green-screened, or that the movie accentuates its greenscreen with washed-out overlighting. While it’s sadly not unusual for a bad comedy to have a blooper reel that’s funnier than the movie itself (this is something of a Fletcher tradition; the innocuous but not particularly funny The Guilt Trip hid a couple of big laughs in its end-credit outtakes), this is the first time I can recall thinking a blooper reel looked more polished and better-lit than the final product, too. I guess it fits the admirable way the actresses throw themselves into the movie without regard for glamour; I just wish the movie earned that commitment. Witherspoon in particular seems up for whatever, speaking with a Texas twang and occasionally donning silly disguises like she’s in a Pink Panther movie. She has a funny scene where she accidentally takes cocaine and gets deliriously motormouthed, and another one where she dresses up as a boy and winds up looking like Justin Bieber. Vergara has some funny reactions to that last bit; most of them play during the blooper reel. It looks like Fletcher choreographed a good time for her actors, at least.