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film review

Sofia Vergara, left, stars as Daniella Riva and Reese Witherspoon as Officer Cooper in this comedy that’s a chase film, a buddy film, ridiculous, loud and often offensive.Sam Emerson

Last time we saw Reese Witherspoon dealing with the police on film it was the YouTube classic from 2013, when the indignant actress gave an officer the do-you-know-who-I-am? business. We know who she is. The question is, does she?

Because the last time we checked, she starred and excelled in last year's Wild, earning across-the-board praise for her understated, nuanced portrayal of a woman on a long walk of self-discovery. The role rejuvenated an inconsistent career.

But now she co-stars in Hot Pursuit, a zany piece of comic landfill in which she is Officer Cooper, a by-the-books but incompetent cop in charge of delivering a key female witness from San Antonio to Dallas for the trial of a Colombian drug lord. It's a chase film, it's a buddy film, it's a ridiculous, loud and often offensive romp. Witherspoon's character is cornball and annoyingly adrenalized – what was she thinking?

Perhaps she cottoned to the idea of working with the red-hot Sofia Vergara, television's Modern Family bombshell and budding Sophia Loren. In Hot Pursuit she's a stock, saucy, over-the-top Latino – all boobs, zingers and hot-tamale temperament. She mocks Witherspoon relentlessly, calling her a "Meester Cherlox Holmes," but more often knocking her purported boyishness with endless lesbian jokes. Because that's an insult in the minds of male scriptwriters David Feeney and John Quaintance.

Plot-wise, Vergara and Witherspoon's characters are on the lam, chased by on-the-take cops. One wishes director Anne Fletcher thought of having our duo ducking into a darkened movie theatre, perhaps to catch a double bill of real films Thelma & Louise or the 1988 Robert De Niro-Charles Groden vehicle Midnight Run.

The wackiness isn't completely without charm, and no doubt the co-stars had a hoot on set, but surely Witherspoon was attracted to something more than dressing up, for one scene, bewigged and Bieber-like. We did notice the New Orleans native broke out a thick Southern drawl for the role. And dang it if just this week the actress didn't launch her Southern-themed Draper James website, an online shop of clothes, jewellery and purses.

So, Witherspoon the hawker. A year ago she was back at the top of her game, and now she's headed south, in hot pursuit of something. Are we buying it?