Hot Pursuit (2015)

I feel like I spend quite a bit of time trying to say nice things about films which aren’t objectively any good. I shouldn’t really have liked Exeter or Return to Sender to take two recent low-achieving candidates for the straight-to-DVD shelf, but they had at least a kernel of something I enjoyed within them. Hot Pursuit is no doubt competently put together by a Hollywood journeywoman — and it’s nice to see that women just as well as men can be picked on for such a thankless task — but it suffers from a fatal flaw, without which no film can ever truly achieve its potential. It has a shitty script. It has a script so insufferably bad that it contrives ridiculous plot twist upon banal cliched plot device to try to distract the audience from the fact that it makes no sense whatsoever. Now this kind of thing can be redeemed by a light touch and self-aware acting (I’d say She’s Funny That Way manages to at least partially rescue a tired and similarly-screwball scenario by such means), but neither Witherspoon as the by-the-book strait-laced Texan cop or Vergara as the sultry gangster’s wife are ever allowed to stop being shrill and incompetent at everything they do, except for a short scene of heart-to-heart bonding (I think it’s over Witherspoon’s character getting a man) and another which allows us to imagine just for the briefest of moments (like, maybe 10-15 seconds) that Vergara may turn out not to be a hideous Latin American stereotype, but another slightly-less-hideous Latin American stereotype. In fact for a woman-directed film with two women in the lead roles, it’s remarkably willing to degrade and insult them for our comic delectation — except that it’s not funny, not even a tiny little bit. Not during the “hilarious” transphobic sight gag in the opening montage, nor the “comedy” explanation of menstruation in order to get out of a fix which relies on all men being entirely unaware of either its existence or what it actually entails, certainly not during the “slapstick” sequence where they pretend to be lesbian lovers to get out of an entanglement with a redneck wielding a rifle, and most of all not for the fact that Witherspoon is apparently a trained law enforcement officer and one who is supposed to take herself incredibly seriously (for laughs, of course), yet cannot seem to do anything with any measure of professionalism. But you know, whatever. I’m sure it’s been successful and everyone who made it are happy with their paychecks and the return it’s made on its investment and etc etc. Just don’t, whatever you do, make the mistake of thinking this will be interesting or transgressive or even enjoyable just because it’s a female buddy comedy directed by a woman and passes the Bechdel Test. Because it isn’t interesting and it isn’t transgressive and it definitely isn’t enjoyable.

Hot Pursuit film posterCREDITS
Director Anne Fletcher; Writers David Feeney and John Quaintance; Cinematographer Oliver Stapleton; Starring Reese Witherspoon, Sofía Vergara; Length 87 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Monday 3 August 2015.

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Chef (2014)

I’ve lived in London for just over ten years now, and if you’ve known me over that time, you’ll know I’ve put on a bit of weight. I’m pretty sure it’s not from lack of exercise, though having a job (and a hobby!) that involves sitting down all day probably doesn’t help. No, I suspect it’s because I like food, and anyone who also likes food (especially if they live in a large metropolitan area) can scarcely have failed to notice the rise of food trucks over the last decade as a delivery mechanism for more than just ice cream and hot dogs. You can get just about anything from trucks these days. In some American cities (like their spiritual heartland in the Pacific Northwest), they are often to be found rotating around a set of fixed locations (‘pods’, if you will) and turning up at all kinds of outdoor, beer or food festivals. Indeed, the concept of ‘street food’ has really taken off, especially in the wake of the 2008 financial crash. So this new film starring and directed by my compatriot in girthfulness, Jon Favreau, can at the very least be said to be on-trend.

In it we see Favreau as Chef Carl Casper at a staid suburban restaurant, where he doesn’t feel creatively stretched, despite having a great team (Bobby Cannavale as his sous chef, backed by John Leguizamo, and Scarlett Johansson on front of house duty). Things come to a head over the visit of and subsequent nasty review by a food blogger (Oliver Platt, touching on another trend), so Chef Casper heads off and, via a sub-plot involving Robert Downey Jr being appropriately RDJ-ish, gets himself a food truck. In truth, a lot of the drama feels a little forced, conflict added just to move the film along and add a bit of spice (as it were), especially the relationship between Chef Casper and his ex-wife and son. It’s like Favreau, having baited the foodie trend, felt the need to shoehorn in a touching story about father-son bonding.

This could all have fallen apart so very easily, but somehow Favreau manages to make it very charming, sweet but not too much so, with a soufflé-light touch. Key to this is that the film really likes all its characters. There’s conflict, sure, and big life changes, but this is a comedy in the classic sense and it wants the best for everyone (even the food blogger gets his redemption). The actors are all enjoyable to watch, especially John Leguizamo, while Sofía Vergara manages to make even her blowsy ex-wife character a likeable one. If some of the father-son moments are rather too saccharine for my taste, if they don’t raise my hackles like they would elsewhere, then perhaps I’m just a sucker for the setting after all. It’s not a film to watch when hungry, and thinking about it now, I could quite happily go for one of those cubanos Cuban sandwiches at which the food truck specialises. In fact, I was a bit disappointed that a truck hadn’t been parked up outside the cinema when I came out, and I imagine you will be too, unless your local cinema is really on its game.

Chef film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Jon Favreau; Cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau; Starring Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, EmJay Anthony, Sofía Vergara, Scarlett Johansson; Length 114 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Haymarket, London, Saturday 28 June 2014.