The director is Dermis Hopper, reformed madman and minor legend, a Sixties survivor whose acting career winds like a snaky tattoo across the dark side of American culture—the anarchism of Easy Rider (1969) to the nihilism of Blue Velvet (1986). The star is Don Johnson, who went undercover amid the Cocaine Chic of Miami Vice. Now Hopper and Johnson share vices in a naughty little potboiler called The Hot Spot. Torrid and tawdry, the movie is as coy as its title. It combines the dark, moody style of vintage crime drama with the sweltering sex of southern-fried soap opera. A trash-fire of clichés, The Hot Spot generates a lot of heat, sizzles with cheap thrills and sends off some wild sparks of humor. But its pleasures are muted by a toxic pall of cynicism.
Based on Hell Hath No Fury, a 1952 novel by U.S. author Charles Williams, The Hot Spot is about a rugged drifter, Harry (Johnson), who turns up in a small Texas town in the heat of the summer. He fast-talks his way into a job selling cars. And he attracts the attention of two women. One is an innocent brunette named Gloria Oennifer Connelly), a nubile accountant who becomes the victim of a mysterious blackmail plot. The other is the boss’s wife, an oversexed blonde named Dolly (Virginia Mad-
sen) who has the morals of a Venus’s-flytrap.
Dolly is hungry for trouble. “There are only two things to do around here,” she tells Harry with a sultry drawl. “You got a TV? No? Well, now you’re down to one.” But Harry has his own idea for beating the boredom—a shrewd scheme for robbing the local bank. When his secret gets out, however, he, too, becomes the victim of blackmail.
As Harry, Johnson offers a gritty, low-key version of his Miami Vice persona. Director Hopper keeps the actor on a tight leash, confining his performance to a subtle range of glances and gestures. Hopper’s direction is intensely stylish, but he seems unable to stick to one style. He slackens the dramatic tension to portray his characters in a titillating series of sexual escapades—including a nude frolic in a swimming hole—that would make more sense in The Blue Lagoon. To his credit, however, Hopper is an equal-opportunity titillator— Johnson shows as much skin as the women.
By making its intentions so transparent, The Hot Spot undermines credibility. One minute, Johnson gets to behave like a serious actor; the next, he is a sex object putting in time. A movie melodrama with aspirations to be a Playboy photo spread, The Hot Spot is arousing, amusing and vacuous. Emotionally, it has more in common with television—putting its star right back where he started.
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