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  Hot Spot, The Too Darn Hot
Year: 1990
Director: Dennis Hopper
Stars: Don Johnson, Virginia Madsen, Jennifer Connelly, Charles Martin Smith, William Sadler, Jerry Hardin, Barry Corbin, Leon Rippy, Jack Nance, Virgil Frye, John Hawker, Margaret Bowman, Debra Cole
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Harry Maddox (Don Johnson) drives into this town in the Deep South with plans, but he's keeping his cards close to his chest. He stops at a diner and asks for an ice cold beer to combat the high temperatures, but the woman at the counter tells him the only place he'll get one of those is at the strip club across the street. He duly goes over there, drinks his beer and notices the local bank manager (Jack Nance) enjoying the show, then heads off to the neighbourhood car salesmen to get the job that is going there. The boss, George Harshaw (Jerry Hardin), is surprised to see Harry start selling before even asking about the post, but it's all part of his scheme...

After directing three films in about twenty years, Dennis Hopper underwent a burst of creativity around the late eighties and early nineties which saw the release of a number of diverse subjects brought to the world's cinemas by the Hollywood maverick. One of those was an updating of the classic film noir format in The Hot Spot, and by updating Hopper obviously thought to retain pretty much all the typical elements but with the addition of a more explicit sexual side. Whether it's the clearly steamy weather that the filmmakers were shooting during, or perhaps the performance of the story's resident femme fatale, the carnal aspects of the characters are never far from anyone's mind.

That femme fatale was played with almost lewd, not to say self-parodic, vigour by Virginia Madsen, in an apparent attempt to outdo Barbara Stanwyck from Double Indemnity - certainly Babs never took her clothes off, or had her body double tackle those more potentially embarassing shots from behind as Madsen does here. But this shows that if you're paying tribute to the classics of the Golden Age, it doesn't hurt to, shall we say, overemphasise the aspects which are now seen as iconic in the movie pantheon, and Madsen was certainly memorable even with the Southern drawl that the whole cast, not only her, saw fit to affect to make themselves sound more authentic.

If you can get past those accents, another part of this which with the addition of a few more ribticklers could have rendered it an out and out comedy, there's something else you have to contend with, and that's the slow-as-molasses pace which contributes to the languid atmosphere but does little to make this exciting. It's like being told a tale of adventure by someone who is just about to nod off to sleep, but after a while you find yourself adjusting to this perspiring and sluggish mood and start to concentrate on the plot. That features one of the most laid back bank robberies ever, in spite of a couple of tense moments, with Harry the man perpretrating it, this being the big scheme he has had in mind ever since arriving in the place.

Madsen plays Dolly, the wife of the boss who tells Harry that she always gets what she wants, but as Harry thinks the same he actually believes it is he who seduces her. Besides, he already has his eye on Gloria (Jennifer Connelly), the sweet and innocent secretary at the car sales office, although true to the film noir subversion, the girl who looks pure enough to save the hero from himself is both more experienced in a sleazy manner than she appears, and in no position to present a defence against the machinations of Dolly. The Hot Spot tends to be less recalled as a Don Johnson movie these days as it is a Madsen or Connelly one, seeing as how they both have topless scenes and make a stronger impression than what turns out to be a bit of a lummox role for the leading man. But the way this works itself out as far as the narrative goes does have a pleasing tradition about it, indicating that it was more in thrall to those conventions than it might have admitted. In a good way. Music by Jack Nitzsche.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Dennis Hopper  (1936 - 2010)

One of the biggest cult stars of all time, he began his career as an actor in the fifties, a proponent of "The Method" which was popular at the time, and a good friend of James Dean, who he appeared with in Giant and Rebel without a Cause. He gradually moved to larger roles - including Gunfight at the OK Corral, Night Tide, Queen of Blood, The Trip and Hang 'Em High - until the late sixties and his directorial debut Easy Rider. The film was a sensation, shaking up Hollywood and becoming an instant classic, but Hopper's increasing dependence on drugs meant he had trouble following up that success as his next work, The Last Movie, was a notorious flop.

He spent the rest of the seventies in more obscure fare like Mad Dog Morgan, Tracks and The American Friend until his appearance in Apoclaypse Now heralded a gradual return to the limelight. Soon he had directed again (with Out of the Blue), and the next decade saw him enjoy acclaim in Rumble Fish, O.C. and Stiggs, My Science Project, River's Edge, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, the classic Blue Velvet and Hoosiers. Into the nineties he directed more with Colors, Catchfire (aka Backtrack), The Hot Spot and Chasers among his credits, and he even started to appear in blockbusters like True Romance, Speed and Waterworld. He continued working right up to the end of his life, with such efforts as Land of the Dead, Elegy and thriller series 24 on his resume, and remained a knowledgeable patron of the arts.

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