Funny women are the new thing in Hollywood, in case you hadn't heard, and Reese Witherspoon is attempting to join the trend with the buddy comedy "Hot Pursuit." Witherspoon plays a by-the-book Texas cop, Cooper, who is assigned to protect Daniella Riva (Sofia Vergara), a valuable but volatile witness in a drug-dealing case. It's a setup for the kind of odd-couple high jinks that have long been the domain of male teams, from Hope-Crosby to Wilder-Pryor to Rogen-Franco.
More to the point, "Hot Pursuit" wants to capture some of the magic created by a female team, Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, in "The Heat," an action-comedy that became a hit in the summer of 2013. "Hot Pursuit," however, feels like a dashed-off copycat version -- right down to its title. The tepid duo of Witherspoon-Vergara is no match for the combustible Bullock-McCarthy, though in fairness there are few actors who could elevate the weak, toothless material in this film.
You might think Witherspoon would be one of them. Her resumé includes two comedies that are gold standards in their different ways: the viciously satirical "Election" and the bubbly "Legally Blonde." The role of Cooper, though, is so limited -- uptight and spazzy -- that Witherspoon seems straitjacketed inside her. Vergara, of ABC's "Modern Family," is not exactly stretching as a fiery Latina, and the filmmakers seem happy to reduce her to a curvaceous, English-mangling stereotype. The characters don't have enough substance to clash or complement each other.
"Hot Pursuit" is directed by a woman, Anne Fletcher ("27 Dresses"), but the script, by David Feeney and John Quaintance, feels hopelessly male. After Cooper and Riva are forced to go on the lam, they use their gender, rather than their wits, to survive. They disarm a gun-toting redneck (Jim Gaffigan) by putting on a lesbian act; they distract two male cops by describing their periods in off-putting detail. These gags feel shopworn and dated, and they don't do either gender any favors.
Aside from Robert Kazinsky as a hunky felon and John Carroll Lynch as Police Captain Emmett, there are barely any other actors in "Hot Pursuit." Mostly, it's just Witherspoon and Vergara, floundering alone as they try to regenerate "The Heat."