Picks and Pans Review: The Hot Spot
It becomes clear soon after Johnson smolders into town, gets a job at a ramshackle auto dealership and starts pawing Madsen, the boss's wife. This is director Dennis Hopper showing that whippersnapper Lynch what deep decadence and film really, truly noir is all about. He is making The Used Car Salesman Always Rings Twice.
And he makes it fun, if that word can apply to a film that features arson, murder by sexual arousal, secret lesbianism, blackmail, multiple infidelity and probably even, though it's not shown onscreen, turning back the odometers on used cars.
It's never clear why Johnson ends up in the Texas town in the first place, but he sure isn't any lost sheep, or a Boy Scout either—except perhaps one with a merit badge for starting fires. This is a man capable of gallantly courting the teenage Connelly (an accountant at the car dealership) at the same time he is letting himself be seduced by the flouncy Madsen.
Johnson, reminiscent of William Hurt in Body Heal, is convincing enough. And Madsen, while this role doesn't severely test her acting abilities, does keep putting her best foot forward—the rest of the leg too, right up to and including the bare thigh. While Connelly (Once Upon a Time in America) has such bushy eyebrows you keep wanting to get a dark pen and draw a line to connect them, her face has a naturally injured look that serves her well in this case.
There are nice supporting performances by Charles Martin (The Untouchables) Smith, as a too easygoing salesman, and by William (Die Hard 2) Sadler, who oozes lack of moral fiber as a seedy extortionist harassing Connelly.
Nona Tyson, an ex-Universal Studios production assistant who died in 1982, wrote this grim script with mystery novelist Charles Williams (who died in 1975) from Williams's 1952 novel Hell Hath No Fury. That sort of leisurely approach seems to suit Hopper, who has directed only five films in 21 years.
He is just an old-fashioned fellow in his way; he doesn't insist on anything like the gross-out scenes Lynch seems so proud of. Don't look for him to direct your community theater production of The Sound of Music, though. In his movies any character who gets to live unhappily ever after has achieved a moral victory, and this insidiously enjoyable film is no exception. (R)