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Reviewed June 6th, 2003 by David Nusair


In The Hot Spot, Don Johnson stars as Harry Madox, a drifter that finds himself in a small Southern town. Wandering through the city, he notices that a local car dealership is looking for a new salesman. He quickly sells a car without even notifying the manager, and winds up with a commission-only gig. In addition, working at the dealership is a young woman named Gloria Harper (Jennifer Connelly), who immediately sparks Harryís interest. However, Harryís distracted by the bossí wife, a sultry vixen named Dolly Harshaw (Virginia Madsen), and the two are soon embroiled in a steamy affair. Meanwhile, Harryís got his eye on the local bank and for good reason; the security system doesnít work and the only person manning the joint seems to be the owner (who is easily distracted).

The Hot Spot is an incredibly hit-and-miss affair, with the various positive elements in the film hurt by a seriously overlong running time. The most effective aspect of the film is Johnsonís performance. By shedding his usual cocky grin and confident swagger, he manages to turn Harry into a character thatís so sleazy and self-serving he canít help but be fascinating. As he ambles into this small town, we get the sense that he believes it is the sort of place he could own Ė with the help of some conning and stealing. Itís certainly an eye-opening performance, and itís a little surprising it didnít turn him into a bigger star (it probably doesnít help that he followed The Hot Spot with Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man).

But as good as he is (not to mention fine supporting turns from Connelly and character actor/director Charles Martin Smith as a cohort at the dealership), the film suffers from an incredibly uneven pace. Though the majority of Harryís escapades within the town are interesting, anything involving his affair with Dolly sends the film into dullsville. Madsen is clearly trying to channel Barbara Stanwyck here, playing the evil temptress whose motivations are not made clear until the very end, but somehow it just does not work. This sort of character is probably one of the most familiar in the history of film, but director Dennis Hopper does not use her in a terribly unique manner. Madsenís scenes have an air of familiarity about them, as though weíve seen her story arc thousands of times before Ė in far better movies.

Having said that, the movie is mostly entertaining Ė if a little on the long side. But Johnsonís performance and Hopperís keen eye for small town life makes The Hot Spot worth a look.

Audio: The Hot Spot is presented with a somewhat underwhelming DD 2.0 soundtrack. To be fair, this isnít exactly a film thatís peppered with a lot of big explosions, but the few instances of heavy activity (especially the fire in the first half hour) are weak and unassuming. Still, the ample dialogue is always easy enough to make out.

Video: This anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer fares slightly better, though not much. The print seems to have been cleaned up to a certain extent, but there are still a few instances of specks and lines.

Extras: Apart from a trailer, nothing.

Conclusion: The Hot Spot is a modern film noir thatís easily worth a rental.


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