There’s poetic justice to be found in the fact that Susan Seidelman has a movie coming out the same summer as ‘The Heat.” After all, it was Seidelman — with such pivotal 1980s films as “Smithereens” and “Desperately Seeking Susan” — who paved the way for the brash, sister-powered comedies of today.
Which makes it all the more painful that her new film, “The Hot Flashes,” feels so anemically earnest. The story of a group of middle-aged women who form a basketball team in order to raise funds for a mobile mammography unit, this predictable, pokily paced ensemble sags under the weight of forced humor and its own unimpeachable intentions. Even though it earns an R rating for profanity and some risque material, it’s too meek and mild-mannered to qualify as brave, or even slyly subversive.
“The Hot Flashes” shares the same malady suffered by some of its menopausal protagonists: wanting badly to upend prim convention and politeness, but too afraid of disapproval to go all the way.
Brooke Shields plays Beth, a Texas homemaker who dreams up the idea of the basketball squad and corrals a team of former high school champions to form a ragtag group of misfits: Flo (Wanda Sykes), a local politician and the town’s most visible (maybe only) black citizen; Clementine (Virginia Madsen), whose blonde tresses and freewheeling sexuality make her the object of wary scorn; Ginger (Daryl Hannah), a gangly, Titian-haired car dealership owner; and Roxie (Camryn Manheim), a biker chick whose baked goods are capable of baking whoever eats them.
The wan humor of “The Hot Flashes,” which was written by Brad Hennig, depends on tired caricatures, a running subplot about closeted homosexuality and sight gags like dressing up Sykes in a puffy square-dancing dress or casting a little person as the Flashes’ coach. The game sequences are filmed with a lumbering lack of energy, an awkwardness that afflicts the entire movie. What might have been a welcome cinematic catharsis — “Bridesmaids” for the black cohosh set — instead goes as limp as a half-filled basketball. “The Hot Flashes” could have used both more heat and more flash.
R. At West End Cinema. Contains some sexual content and drug use. 99 minutes.