Hot Pursuit

 

Hot Pursuit is a disappointment. It’s not funny. Just minutes into the show, it becomes obvious that the film, which is essentially one extended chase scene, is going nowhere.

Policewoman Cooper (Reese Witherspoon) and drug lord wife Daniella Riva (Sofia Vergara) are travel mates in this would-be madcap comedy. Like last year’s Tammy, the set up is okay, the stars are likable, but the movie, ultimately, is a failure.

Cooper is assigned to escort Riva to Dallas where her drug lord husband is set to testify against a former partner. But the pickup is botched when gangs burst in with guns blazing. Cooper and Riva escape and take to the road in a classic Cadillac convertible, the first of several vehicles they’ll use to get to their destination.

Witherspoon, despite being raised in Nashville, speaks with a southern accent that sounds inauthentic. Vergara, brings little beyond her Modern Family TV persona to her role. Neither excels at physical comedy. Hot Pursuit is a mess.

Who gets the blame? Director Anne Fletcher delivered another bad road trip movie The Guilt Trip (with Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand) in 2012. The writers David Feeney and John Quaintance are veterans of (mostly failed) TV sitcoms. With the exceptions of comedians Jim Gaffigan and Mike Birbiglia in small roles, the supporting cast has no real charm.

Witherspoon and Vergara have producer and executive producer credits, so they are among the culprits.

I’ll concede there are a handful of chuckles, but if you want big laughs you won’t find them here. (Even the outtakes that are shown during closing credits are not funny.) Do not pursue.

Inherent Vice

 

Inherent Vice is an enjoyable mess from director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson. The plot is secondary to the film’s characters and the amusing things they do and say.

It’s 1970. Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is a longhaired pot-smoking hippie L.A. private detective who gets a surprise visit from old girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston). Her newest flame, it turns out, is a married guy whose wife and the wife’s boyfriend are trying to get him out of the picture to get his money. Shasta wants Doc to find out what’s up.

The missing boyfriend is sleazy real estate developer Michael Wolfman (Eric Roberts) whose latest project is a subdivision ridiculously located next to L.A.’s concrete irrigation canal. When Doc goes to check it out, he finds a massage parlor where the menu of services is clearly posted on the wall.

The story brings in many players including LAPD Lieutenant Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (James Brolin) who has some hilarious moments onscreen. His enjoyment of chocolate covered bananas provides some of Inherent Vice’s humor.

Also in the cast is Martin Short as Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd, a dentist who is handling money for other dentists in a company called the Golden Fang. Benecio Del Toro appears as Doc’s attorney. Reese Witherspoon plays an assistant D.A. who is another of Doc’s gal pals. Owen Wilson is Coy Harlingen, a musician with shady connections. Maya Rudolph has a role as a receptionist with the colorful name Petunia Leeway.

The narrative goes in many directions and brings in even more characters than those I’ve mentioned. My son described Inherent Vice as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy for stoners. That sounds about right.

Inherent Vice, despite its too many plot elements has a charm not unlike that of The Big Lebowski. While it’s doubtful that IV might attain similar cult status, it provides a fun take on a time and a place. If Anderson is willing to share his characters and setting with a developer, I’d love to see an Inherent Vice TV series. Either in the more permissive setting of cable or the more restrictive arena of over-the-air TV, it just might work.

 

 

Wild

 

A thousand mile walk is long and tedious. So is Wild.

Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) sets out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. She spends three months on the trail, covering 1,100 miles, to reset her life. Cheryl’s issues are examined in numerous flashbacks.

The scenery is gorgeous. From the sparse vegetation and rattlesnakes of the desert to the verdant woodlands and foxes of the mountains, Wild gloriously displays the beauty of nature. Director Jean-Marc Vallée contrasts the peace and serenity of the trail to the tumult and pain of Cheryl’s personal life.

Her father was abusive. Her mother (Laura Dern) left her husband, took her 2 kids and raised them to embrace the joys of life, no matter the circumstances. When Cheryl’s mother dies from a fast-moving cancer, Cheryl’s personal problems intensify. She becomes promiscuous and shoots heroin. Cheryl and husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski) try to work through her infidelities. Although they have split, he sends her supplies along the hike and offers encouragement.

Reese Witherspoon lets down her vanity and lets viewers see her raw with no makeup (and in the raw in some of the scenes of her downward spiral before the hike. Although she brings condoms galore in her backpack, in the film she only has one hookup along way.) Reese’s Cheryl goes from a clueless rube as she begins her odyssey to a seasoned, more confident woodsman as she reaches Washington state. An emotional conversation with a young child she meets on the trail near the journey’s end is designed to trigger audience tears.

Call me insensitive, but I was way more interested in the trek and the people and situations she encounters along the trail than I was in Cheryl’s backstory. Watching a novice hiker take on this immense challenge is, for me, a chance to live vicariously on a long-distance hike that I will never have the time or energy to do.

While the print version of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir was universally praised, the telling of her life events via flashbacks on the movie screen fails to elicit the necessary level of emotional investment from me to make this movie one I can embrace to the degree others have. Wild has its moments, but, for me, it’s not “special.”

 

 

 

 

 

This Means War—(Reese Piece)

Ever had a food item that was good but made better by some special sauce or seasoning? In “This Means War,” Chelsea Handler provides the spice that makes this good movie better.

“This Means War” is a romantic action comedy. All three of those genres get their due. Reese Witherspoon meets two guys—one through an online dating service; the other via video store flirting. She ends up going out with both. Here’s the kicker: The two guys work together as CIA operatives! Plus they are best friends!

Personal anecdote that relates: When I moved to the Twin Cities a few decades ago, the first two women I dated—one via an arranged blind date; the other from a chance meeting at the state fair—both worked at the Three Sisters retail clothing store at Rosedale Mall! (I am now happily married to one of them.)

Back to TMW: Reese’s two guys are Chris Pine and Tom Hardy, two good-looking, likeable guys who realize early on that they’re dating the same woman. But Reese doesn’t know they know each other. Classic sitcom plotting, but handled well here.

Reese gets romantic advice from her married friend, played by Chelsea Handler. Handler is hilarious in this movie. Reportedly, “This Means War” was originally rated R, but some of Handler’s saucier language was clipped to get the rating knocked down to PG-13. I generally ignore “unrated” version DVD ‘s, but might look for this one when it comes out this spring or summer.

In addition to the romance and comedy, there’s action. The film kicks off with a battle in Hong Kong between our two CIA guys and some really mean bad guys. The fight involves gun play, hand-to-hand combat, helicopters and a fall from a tall building. The movie’s climax comes with a well-executed chase scene. The CIA aspect comes into play as each guy monitors the other guy’s wooing of Reese.

If I had to rank the movie’s three elements, I’d put comedy first, followed by action, then romance. My wife—you may remember her from Three Sisters in Rosedale Mall—ranks them exactly the same.

“This Means War” is not a movie to love, but is one to like. Have some fun with it.