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The Hot Spot (1990)
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The Hot Spot / Killing Me Softly

Director: Dennis Hopper, Kaige Chen
Cast: Don Johnson, Jennifer Connelly, Virginia Madsen, Barry Corbin/Heather Graham, Joseph Fiennes

(US DVD: 13 Aug 2013)

Shout! Factory’s primary product has been retro films and television shows, live concerts and documentaries. One of the company’s latest products is a Blu-ray featuring the films Killing Me Softly (2002) and The Hot Spot (1990). These two movies, originally released 12 years apart, are an arbitrary pairing. Killing Me Softly is supposed to be an erotic thriller while The Hot Spot is a failed attempt at film noir. The only thing these two movies have in common is an abundance of nudity, bad acting and a lack of an engaging storyline or characters.


Killing Me Softly stars Heather Graham as Alice, an American woman living with her boyfriend Jake (Jason Hughes) in London. One morning, her usual routine is derailed when she encounters a handsome stranger played by Joseph Fiennes. Alice winds up blowing off work and spends the afternoon having sex with him. She later learns he is a famous mountain climber named Adam Tallis.


Alice is content, if not happy, in her stable and secure relationship with Jake. Their life together is like a well-choreographed ballet with no missteps or surprises. Alice dresses conservatively and wears her hair pulled back, so the audience knows she’s repressed both literally and figuratively. Adam is intense, passionate and mysterious, and after just a few dalliances, she unceremoniously dumps Jake and moves in with Adam.


The idea that a woman can be liberated by an intense sexual relationship has been explored before. Two films where the title female characters are externally reserved, but after succumbing to the sexual advances of a mysterious and aggressive man, experience both physical transformation and internal freedom are Nine ½ Weeks starring Kim Basinger and Unfaithful featuring Diane Lane. These actresses were able to convey their inner turmoil of initially feeling euphoric and sated sexually and then completely out of control. They become slaves to their carnal desires with subtlety.


Graham’s performance is completely superficial. She brags to a girlfriend that she’s dressing differently and buying slutty lingerie. Her previous wardrobe, which consisted of neutral and muted tones, has been replaced by vibrant oranges and pinks, and she starts to wear her hair loose. However, viewers don’t really get any sense of internal struggle or turmoil.


Killing Me Softly (2002)

Killing Me Softly (2002)


Adam proposes after an incredibly violent confrontation with a mugger, and she agrees with no hesitation. Once the two are married, Alice finally starts to suspect she doesn’t know everything about her husband. This is when the film transitions into a less than titillating thriller.


In Shakespeare in Love, Fiennes brooding was attributed to the fact that he was an artist. His brooding was tempered with humor. In Killing Me Softly, he’s melodramatic. Graham brings nothing of substance to her role as Alice other than large doe eyes. Their sexual chemistry is diminished by the frantic staging of their lovemaking. Graham used to be an ingénue who had the capacity to walk the fine line between being seductive and being slutty. Her turn as Carla in Two Girls and a Guy is a perfect example. Graham, no less attractive but considerably older, needs to capitalize on her maturity.


The performances in The Hot Spot are somewhat better, and that could partially be attributed to the fact that the film was directed by Dennis Hopper. There are cinematic elements that are reminiscent of film noir. Don Johnson plays Harry Madox, a charismatic drifter who stops in a small Texas town for a beer and discovers several reasons to stay. He procures a job as a salesman at a used car lot owned by George Harshaw (Jerry Hardin). Harry has an idea of how to make a large sum of money fast but is sidetracked by the drama brought into his life by two women. The first is Harry’s gold digging wife Dolly (Virginia Madsen), and the second is a sweet, young, damsel in distress named Gloria Harper (Jennifer Connelly).


Madsen, with her voluptuous figure and blonde hair, is reminiscent of Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Dolly realizes that Harry is attracted to her physically but has no interest in entering into a long-lasting relationship. He winds up beholden to her after she supplies him with an alibi. Dolly wants what every femme fatale wants, someone to get rid of her husband.


Meanwhile, Harry is drawn to Gloria’s beauty and sweetness, her personality the polar opposite of Dolly’s. Gloria confides in Harry that she has a nefarious presence in her life. Harry takes it upon himself to free her from her obligations to a lowlife blackmailer named Frank Sutton (William Sadler).


The film feels like Double Indemnity meets The Last Picture Show.The movie is shot in the bright light of day, therefore lacking the more somber shadowy tones usually seen in film noir. The only character motivated by sex is Dolly while Harry is driven more by love. The story drags, although it isn’t predictable. The sex scenes, by today’s standards, are pretty tame. The ending isn’t necessarily a happy one, but Harry states in his own words that it’s probably the best someone like him can expect.


This Blu-ray contains no special features.

Rating:

Jennifer Lind-Westbrook currently writes reviews/recaps for "PopMatters,""TVFiends" and "BuddyTV" and its affiliates.


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