The Hot Spot

In some of my past reviews, I’ve talked about some of the young actresses I had crushes on during my teenage years.  I admit, there were several, but I think Jennifer Connelly probably topped the list.  After all, I had first seen her in Jim Henson’s 1986 film “Labyrinth.”  I’ve mentioned before that I’m a puppeteer…so seeing this cute girl who was the same age I was in a movie with a bunch of puppets was like heaven for me.  But by 1990, Connelly left the puppets behind and moved toward steamier material, appearing in noir-ish film directed by the one and only Dennis Hopper…1990’s “The Hot Spot.”

The film centers on drifter Harry Maddox (Don Johnson) who comes to a small Texas town during the blistering days of summer.  Now there’s something about small Texas towns in the movies…even if they don’t have a huge population, they always have at least two key things: a used car lot and a couple of hot women.  Maddox, ends up getting himself a job as a salesman at the used car lot.  Hot woman #1 is Gloria (Connelly), who works in the finance department at the dealership.  Hot woman #2 is Mrs. Harshaw (Virginia Madsen), wife of the lot’s owner (Jerry Hardin).

Mrs. Harshaw takes an immediate interest in Harry, and he doesn’t exactly fight off her advances.  Meanwhile, Harry starts to take a bit on an interest in the much younger Gloria.  She’s a sweet girl, but she seems to be hiding something…whatever it is, it has something to do with a local trailer park reject known as Sutton (William Sadler).  But even with two gorgeous women around, the thing that has most of Harry’s attention is the local bank.  He first visits the bank one day while a burger joint is on fire down the street.  This is when he learns that most of the bank’s employees are volunteer firemen, which leaves the bank pretty much empty during fires.  Plus, the recently installed security camera system is on the fritz.

It doesn’t take Harry long to orchestrate another fire that will give him the opportunity to rob the bank.  He even manages to make it to the fire and rescue a trapped man after having successfully robbed the bank.  After the robbery, he buries the loot in the ground and goes back to business.  Though the local sheriff (Barry Corbin) is suspicious of Harry, he has not enough evidence to charge him…especially after Mrs. Harshaw testifies that he was at the fire shortly after it started and couldn’t have robbed the bank.

Mrs. Harshaw now figures she’s got Harry in the palm of her hand, but Harry begins to spend more time with Gloria. He soon learns that Sutton has been blackmailing Gloria over nude pictures he snapped of her and her adopted “sister,” now deceased.  The photos do sort of paint the two as being an item.  So, now Harry steps in to try and stop Sutton.  Meanwhile, Mrs. Harshaw has plans of her own to eliminate her husband and claim Harry for herself.

The atmosphere is really what carries “The Hot Spot,” because there’s nothing terribly new and original about most of the story.  Look at the major elements of the story: Texas town, drifter/criminal, rich sexpot wife with an older husband, sweet but sexy other woman…is it me, or haven’t we seen all this stuff many times before?  This one may be a bit more explicit than some others we’ve seen (Virginia Madsen is somewhat fearless in this one), but ultimately the basic story is nothing new.

But, as I said, the atmosphere takes this film a long way.  You almost feel like you’re going to choke on the Texas air as you watch this thing.  The mood is aided big time by a fantastic bluesy soundtrack featuring the likes of John Lee Hooker, Miles Davis and Taj Mahal.  But ultimately, it’s the two lead actresses who really sell this one.  Both performances are very sexy, with Madsen playing the woman you love to hate and Connelly as the girl you can’t help fall in love with.  But then there’s Don Johnson.  His performance is not bad, but somehow it just doesn’t seem quite in tune with his leading ladies.

Though the film doesn’t really cover any new ground, director Dennis Hopper handles the material well.  It’s an interesting modern take on a film noir…and hey, it’s got Jennifer Connelly in it.  No puppets, but 1 out of 2 ain’t bad.

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