The Hot Spot (1990) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Scoopy's comments in white:

What more is there to say about The Hot Spot? Although an insignificant film in the great scheme of things, it must be the most captured movie in history, attributable solely to one beautiful close-up scene of Jennifer Connelly topless in bright sunlight. It is not common to see someone so young, so famous, and so perfectly formed in such perfect clarity. Bravo to Jen for preserving the memory for all of us. Can you believe that this movie is now a decade old, and Jen is becoming a senior citizen before our very eyes? She's 31 as I write this, and now an Oscar winner.

You have to wonder about Connelly interrupting her career for college. That kind of broke the "strike while the iron is hot" principle. She was a very marketable and visible property and just disappeared into the woodwork for a while, working only part-time. Of course, it's sensible and meritorious to earn an Ivy league diploma, but you wonder how much earning power it cost her.

This film is an erotic thriller that takes place in a small Texas town. It is also an homage to an earlier form of filmmaking, and could easily be in B&W, and star Barbara Stanwyck and John Garfield.

Don Johnson plays a drifter who wanders into town and develops a master plan to rob the local bank by using a fire as a decoy. When the police figure it out, and toss him in the pokey, a horny local housewife gets him out by providing him with an unsolicited and completely fabricated alibi. The problem is that Don doesn't want to stay faithful to his jaded benefactor (Virginia Madsen). He has his eye on a maidenly and sweet local girl (Jennifer Connelly) who manages to reach the brighter angels of his nature. In between the robbery and sex, there are some murders, some blackmail, some steamy misunderstandings, and I don't know what all. There are a lot of things going on, but it all unfolds very slowly.


Three scenes take place in a local topless club

Jennifer Connelly and Debra Cole showed their breasts in a sunbathing scene. (Connelly's character also showed her buns, but that is said to be a body double)

Virginia Madsen showed her buns and breasts in several scenes, but all in relative darkness.

Don Johnson's butt was seen in a skinny dipping scene.

Don Johnson was well cast as an egocentric, thoughtless, and dishonest man. The part called for a cold man whose heart was touched by the innate beauty and innocence of the Connelly character, even if things can't really work out between them in the long run. Johnson had the cold part down to a T. I'm not so sure he sold me in the part where his heart is supposed to melt. To me, his affection for Connelly seemed like just another scheme. It doesn't seem that Johnson is very effective when warmth is required. Let's just say that when he enters a room, the mongooses start to fidget.

Roger Ebert liked the film quite a bit, assessed its place in the cinema pantheon, and described its flavor so well that I'm just going to quote him:

I feel at home in movies like "The Hot Spot." They come out of that vast universe formed by the historic meeting of B movies and the idea of film noir - films about the soft underbelly of the human conscience. There are certain conventions to be observed, and "The Hot Spot" knows them and observes them. The hero has to smoke and look laconic and be trying to suppress something in his past. It helps if he drives a Studebaker. The boss' wife has to have learned all of her moves by studying old movies. The plot has to provide that the bad guys don't commit all of the crimes; the hero, for example, robs the bank.
A film this simple can best be appreciated by a fairly sophisticated viewer, I think. Your average workaday moviegoer will relate to it on Level One and think it contains cliches and stereotypes.  Only movie lovers who have marinated their imaginations in the great B movies from RKO and Republic will recognize "The Hot Spot" as a superior work in an old tradition - as a manipulation of story elements as mannered and deliberate, in its way, as variations on a theme for the piano.

The film was directed by Dennis Hopper. Tuna and I both found the pacing too languorous, but I think Hopper did do a good job on picturing the small town atmosphere and the intense heat of the area, and he came up with some creative and sexy ways to portray the Virginia Madsen character. Tuna suggests skipping the movie, but I kinda liked it, because it has some entertaining elements, b-movie anti-heroes, and good old-fashioned sleaze, ala Wild Things or The Postman Always Rings Twice. I would have liked it at a running time of 90 minutes or so, but at its current 129 minute length I recommend keeping the FF handy, because it drags in spots.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

  • no meaningful features

Tuna's comments in yellow:

The Hot Spot is the story of a multi-talented crook who is equally at home selling used cars, robbing banks, committing assault and battery and arson, and killing people. In his copious free time, he has sex with the wife of his boss, and romances the one female employee. Oh, and he is the hero. The wife of the boss is not a very nice woman, and plays the evil role in this classic struggle of good vs evil. Gloria, (who does the books for the car dealership and embezzles money to pay her blackmailer) plays the role of good. The entire story takes place in a sleepy small Texas town. I reckon the pace of the film would be a might slow even for them folks. Even two famous naked women and some anonymous strippers weren't enough to save this one for me. I suggest skipping it.

The Critics Vote

  • Ebert 3/4

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDB readers say 6.2 of 10
  • with their dollars ... it bombed. Domestic gross $1.3 million


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C-. A slow paced erotic thriller which had some potential, but goes on too long and has too many tedious sub-plots. It is noteworthy mostly for sun-lit Connelly nudity and a deliciously trampy and camped-up portrayal from Virginia Madsen who resembles Barbara Stanwyck and seems to be impersonating her.

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