Saturday 29 January 2022

Movie Review: The Hot Spot (1990)

A film noir drenched in immorality, The Hot Spot enjoys suitably depraved characters but surrenders to excess.

Drifter Harry Maddox (Don Johnson) arrives in the small town of Landers, Texas, and secures a job as a used car salesperson at the dealership owned by George Harshaw (Jerry Hardin). Harry immediately sets his eyes on the dealership's young accountant Gloria Harper (Jennifer Connelly), and learns she is being blackmailed by local sleazoid Frank Sutton (William Sadler).

Harry finds the local bank's security extremely lax, with no electronic surveillance and all the tellers quick to abandon their posts on volunteer fire-fighting duty. He starts to plot a bank robbery, but then tangles with George's over-sexed wife Dolly (Virginia Madsen), who wants Harry all for herself. 

Adapting the book Hell Hath No Fury by Charles Williams, director Dennis Hopper unleashes and modernizes all the noir artefacts. The Hot Spot features selfish motives, criminal behaviour, unconstrained lust, and characters stooping to base instincts. It's also set in an abstract, isolated small town that appears to exist on its own desert-like planet somewhere between the 1950s and 1990s. Everyone is perpetually drenched in sweat, the daylight scenes bathed in the yellows of a scathing sun.

With Don Johnson in excellent form as a man resigned to drift, the morally flawed Harry Maddox is stuck between desire for Gloria's fragility and an inability to resist Dolly's malevolence. Harry has flashes of conscience hinting at a better man within, perhaps worth salvaging. He rescues a drunk from a burning building, and pulls back from his aggressive advances on Gloria upon learning how young she is. But driven by crass instincts, he is also less smart than he thinks he is and all too easily sinks into Dolly's clutches.

Hopper exploits the cinematic era with scenes of steamy sex and nudity, this noir less about suggesting and more about demonstrating lust in full flow, losing the artistry of less is more. Commendably but also excessively, Virginia Madsen plunges into the deep end as an out-of-control vamp in heat, her performance like her character devoid of subtlety. And at 130 minutes the film drags on well past the story's limits, several scenes awkwardly padding the running length with lazy editing.

Colourful riff raff surrounds the main characters, most notably William Sadler having fun as the seediest kind of redneck pornographer and blackmailer. Charles Martin Smith as another salesperson and Barry Corbin as the local sheriff add interest to the supporting cast. 

Abandoning constraint out in the desert, The Hot Spot is admirably dedicated to bad behaviour.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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