The Hot Spot (1990)
The Hot Spot (1990)

Genre: Crime Drama and Mystery Running Time: 2 hrs. 10 min.

Release Date: October 26th, 1990 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Dennis Hopper Actors: Don Johnson, Virginia Madsen, Jennifer Connelly, Charles Martin Smith, William Sadler, Jerry Hardin, Barry Corbin, Leon Rippy




n search of a cold beer in a hot Texas town that doesn’t serve alcohol before noon, Harry Madox (Don Johnson) wanders over to The Yellow Rose strip club. But the sights don’t amuse him enough to stick around, so he walks across the street to Harshaw Motors, where a salesman is wanted, so he proceeds to sell a car to a total stranger for a company he doesn’t work for – landing him the job. He comes back the next day to officially start, at which point he’s introduced to secretary Gloria Harper (Jennifer Connelly) – a stunning 19-year-old brunette with whom he gladly runs a no-commission errand, just to get a bit closer to her.

But the longer this drifter sticks around, the more he discovers that the dusty little city of Landers is full of mysterious people with secretive relationships. Perhaps the only commonplace character is snuff-chewing, fellow salesman Lon Gulick (Charles Martin Smith). Certainly the most dangerous is the boss’ wife, Dolly Harshaw (Virginia Madsen), who immediately begins a series of flirtations, prompting Harry to accompany her for trivial duties – and then to her house, all alone, while Mr. Harshaw is away on a hunting trip.

Based on the novel “Hell Hath No Fury” by Charles Williams, and directed by Dennis Hopper, “The Hot Spot” moves very slowly, building up characters with no pasts who happen to traipse across each others’ paths. And with so many intersecting dalliances, it’s likely they’ll have limited futures. Expectedly, it’s not long before Madox winds up in Dolly’s bed, while also contemplating robbing the Landers State Bank. Both are equally chancy endeavors.

For a film with this title, there’s certainly enough sex and nudity. But nothing else of much substance occurs during the first half, turning this erotic semi-thriller into a rather mundane affair. If anything, it’s an examination of two types of women: the bored, opportunistic seductress and the wholesome small town girl. Despite Harry’s luck with the ladies, he can only seem to land the viperous ones.

The main protagonist is also a largely unlikeable guy, even though he eventually does something quite heroic (and then, something violent yet cinematically justifiable). This conflicted act, however, is followed by additional, lengthy sequences of flat romance, run-ins and stalemates with law enforcement, and complications with Harshaw’s wife. A mystery concerning repossession deadbeat Sutton (William Sadler) also brews, but, like nearly every element of this neo-noir drama (which draws many similarities to “Double Indemnity”), it unfolds with an excruciating sluggishness. And even when it becomes clear what his involvement is, it’s not terribly original. By the end of this bloated, small-town crime saga, a few moderate (and guessable) surprises turn up (including a perversely fitting finale), but they’re not shocking or severe enough to warrant such a long, meandering theatrical adaptation.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10