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‘The Hot Spot’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 26, 1990

It's clear pretty early in "The Hot Spot" that credibility, realism and other uncomfortable constraints, like taking this movie seriously, are out to lunch. What's left is a crazy, intentionally ludicrous movie that's a lot of film-noir fun.

The person behind the rather enjoyable, dark-themed shenanigans is director Dennis Hopper, a man who tends to be unhappy unless something weird is going on. To this existential end, he ensures there'll be something macabre, provocative, violent, absurd or comical in every shot or situation -- sometimes all of these things at once. He also lays in some great, where-are-my-shades? blues rock throughout the soundtrack.

Certainly there are problems all over this movie: plot-hole stuff, a roadhouse-mentality depiction of women, that sort of thing. But there's something intriguing about watching Don Johnson -- yes, Don Johnson -- as a drifter hero, who moseys into a sleepy but quietly smoldering small town in Texas. Others have slammed his People-magazine presence in Hopper's grim world. But the casting works precisely because of this collision; Johnson's character is also required to be one that physically attracts two women without too much expositional fuss.

Under Hopper's direction, just about anything goes and, for the first half at least, goes with entertaining, offbeat speed. The moment he steps onto a car lot, stranger Johnson sells an automobile and immediately gets hired by boss Jerry Hardin. Just narrative blips later, he's kissing nice-girl Jennifer Connelly in the front seat of one car, and rocking with bad-gal Virginia Madsen (the boss's wife) in the back seat of another.

When an audaciously planned bank robbery happens in the middle of town, however, the pace shoulders a sackful of intrigue. Scriptwriters Nona Tyson and Charles Williams (who adapts from his 1952 novel "Hell Hath No Fury") up their ante fivefold, with a sun-broiled, deliriously harebrained scenario of blackmail, further extortion, murder and, naturally, even more sex. Johnson finds himself in an increasing squeeze, as he gradually runs afoul of everybody, from the local cops to backwoods bad-boy William Sadler; he also finds more to Madsen and Connelly than meets his lusty eye.

How things end up becomes less and less important, not only to you, but Hopper as well. He's just using this as an excuse for his directorial touches -- whether it's the suggestive way Madsen fingers her skirt when she first meets Johnson, or the off-the-wall wisdom of comments such as "Chicken don't always lay its eggs in the same nest."

"Hot Spot" will never go down as timeless, neoclassic noir. But, with its Hopperlike moments, over-the-top performances and infectious music, it carries you along for a spell.

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