The '70s were gangbusters for Dom DeLuise. After a '60s spent in supporting roles and featured appearances on Dean Martin's hit variety show, he was hired by Mel Brooks to be part of his follow-up to The Producers, The Twelve Chairs. From then on, it was one high profile gig after another, from Blazing Saddles to Silent Movie, from The World's Greatest Lover to literally stealing The End from superstar pal Burt Reynolds. By the end of the decade, DeLuise's commercial credit was such that he was allowed to direct the cop comedy Hot Stuff. Bringing along future co-star Jerry Reed (himself riding high after Smokey and the Bandit) and The Bob Newhart Show's Susan Pleshette he took the tale of undercover police officers running a pawn shop to stop local crime and turned it into a weird amalgamation of variety show, half hour laugher, and Hal Needham inspired stunt show. How he got the gig may never be fully explained, but one thing is for sure, what he did with it will go down in the annals of motion picture WTF? This is one strange experience.
With just a few short weeks until retirement, cop Ernie Fortunato (DeLuise) doesn't want any trouble. While his Captain (Ossie Davis) is moping around, saddened over the decision to close his department for good and co-workers Doug Von Horne (Reed) and Ramon (Luis Avalos) try to fight the good fight - the criminal justice system be damned - our portly policeman just wants out. When newcomer Louise Webster (Suzanne Pleshette) arrives, she brings with her a novel idea. Instead of trying to nab petty criminals out on the street, why not get the crooks to come to them? As a result, they decide to use a recently arrested felon's pawn shop to set up a fencing operation. There, they will videotape the exchanges and use the images as evidence at trial. Sure enough, the plan works - with one major catch. The local mafia Don is none too happy that these novices are muscling in on his well worn territory, and if they don't watch themselves, our heroes will have some hitmen after them, pronto!
Hot Stuff is a sitcom stuffed into a 90 minute movie running time. It's a playful set-up, including the various cliched character beats of our leads, twisted into a series of stunted vignettes, some playing perfectly, others missing the mark by mega-miles. Though the simplistic script is laced with curse words (no F-bombs, though) and the steamy Miami locale gives everything a hot and humid grit, DeLuise is still channeling his mentor, Mel Brooks, and the results are equally scattered. This is not laugh out loud funny as much as smile on your face silly. The situations are too broadly drawn and forced to be truly hilarious. Instead, they amble by with the requisite amount of entertainment value, leaving you satisfied if a little suspicious. Indeed, the two biggest questions you will have after watching this freewheeling farce are (1) who thought this was a decent idea for a big screen laugher? and (2) who argued for DeLuise's skills as a first time filmmaker? Neither inquiry has a decent answer.
It has to be said that our beloved fat man has limited skills behind the lens. His reliance on the music montage to move the plot along is almost criminal, and once he's established that Reed is a good ol' boy, Pleshette is a closet carnal case, and he's a ready to retire wimp, that's it on the character front. The rest of the narrative sees a collection of various b-movie actors and recognizable faces frolicking through one silly pawn shop swap sequence after another. Yes, we get the unruly dwarf, the Jewish mother yenta shopper who can't believe she is being overcharged for a plain old toaster, an affront to gay people, the various mafia types who make the standard goombas look positively paisano, and of course, the various minority types that walk the finest of lines between ethnic realism and Hollywood hate crime. And since this all supposed to be funny, while based on some manner of real police work fact, the juxtaposition of jokes and job particulars is puzzling. In fact, we never really understand what DeLuise and his pals are doing to catch crooks. They seem to simply be having a good time running one ass backwards fencing operation.
Somewhere along the line, the movie loses all authenticity and credibility and starts cruising along on a scrim of variety show skit serviceability, and it's here when Hot Stuff becomes unintentionally great. We don't expect a Freebie and the Bean level of irreverence, but DeLuise does seem to be sending up the clueless cops who can't seem to figure out how to finger the bad guys without making massive mistakes along the way. The thin blue line is constantly criticized, portrayed as bumbling and unbelievably dense. Even when we go behind the scenes and experience their halting home life (mostly between DeLuise and his real life wife and kids), the lack of sophistication is ever-present. Michael Kane and Donald E. Westlake's script is an oddball assortment of comment and creations, all filtered through what big Dom knows best - outrageous non-sequitor slapstick comedy. Many of the punchlines fail to land, but we marvel at the effort to set them up properly and then present them. Hot Stuff is by no means a classic, but it's a niche novelty that definitely deserves a look - albeit one time and briefly.
Dealing with a color print from the late '70s, Sony has its work cut out for it. Luckily, the image seems to be in good shape, the lack of defects and or age spots a real plus. On the downside, the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer has been obvious tweaked to up the color correction, leading to a weird kind of glow to many of the hues. Indeed, when Pleshette is seen wandering around in one of her revealing pant suits, the tints practically vibrate. While not completely unnerving, such a revisionist remastering is a tad annoying.
There's a few songs thrown in (including the title track by Reed himself) that are given a decent airing via the standard Dolby Digital Stereo mix. The result is a nice two channel recreation, though the dialogue sometimes gets lost in all the sonic tomfoolery going on in the background. DeLuise even uses the occasional silly sound effect to accent the humor. Still, for a long OOP title, the aural situation here is rather solid.
A trailer. That is all.
Since the '80s and '90s would turn DeLuise from beloved comic sidekick to butt of his own sometimes self-deprecating jokes, it's interesting to go back in time and revisit a moment when the rotund actor was viewed as a viable big screen buffoon. Though his work later on with Burt Reynolds would come to define his commerciality and celebrity, it's efforts like Hot Stuff (and the great Anne Bancroft directed Fatso) that would show who he really was. Earning a real Recommended rating, this is definitely a crackerjack curiosity. It doesn't have enough crime to be a drama and makes policeman look like sad circus clowns, it's still an highly unusual and often entertaining jaunt. You may not laugh, but you will long for the career that made this kind of production possible.
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