The Hot Spot

1990 neo-noir

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Don Johnson drifts into a Texas town and gets mixed up with the problems of a pair of women while trying to figure out how to get away with a bank robbery.

The sorta dumb title of this movie is heard in the first bit of dialogue for the movie, and I doubt that's usually a good sign. Luckily, Jack Nance pops in to save the day. I started this movie only because Dennis Hopper directed it during a period of his life when I assume he was taking drugs, but I got especially excited when I saw Nance's name in the credits. That guy should probably be in my top five favorite actors of all time, and I'm willing to bet that there isn't a movie he's in that he doesn't make better. He plays the exact sort of character somebody like Dennis Hopper would write for him to play, and he's given a lot of chances to shine. For example, he's spotted leering at a stripper in his first scene. And he gets a great line--"I guess I have to learn to not take a crap when the si-reens go off." It's a delivery that only Jack Nance could give.

If you imagine every other movie you've seen from the 1980s that would be labeled "neo-noir," you're not going to be surprised by anything in this movie. The story's placed in a Texas town that would never be anybody's actual destination, a place that seems haunting and unreal. You wouldn't expect a used car dealership to actually remain in business there. The locale is haunting, a town misshapen and isolated by Hollywood, and Hopper's able to establish and maintain a vibe there with just the right amount of intrigue and oddity.

Don Johnson wouldn't have been my first choice for a noir anti-hero, but he's fine as a character who thinks he's in control but is doomed from the start. Virginia Madsen and Jennifer Connelly, the former conniving and frequently naked and the latter nubile and naive and a little bit naked, play caricatures, but they play them very well and look great sans clothing. One might be a body double, but I don't need to know the truth behind all that. Charles Martin Smith plays somebody who Tim Nelson Blake would have played just as well, and William Sadler is great as a villain. In a movie with a story and characters this cynical, however, almost all of the characters are shaded with villainy.

This movie's imperfect and maybe a little silly, but fans of the genre would likely enjoy it enough.

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