Hi, and welcome back to Second Chances where the maligned, forgotten, and ignored are brought in for questioning.
Those who've kept up with my work here know that I have a thing for action-comedies. Five spots in my "Top 40 Favorite Movies" list are taken by Lethal Weapon 3, Hot Fuzz, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Demolition Man, and Beverly Hills Cop. However, there's one movie that just barely missed the list that practically set the stage for the whole genre. It's the largely forgotten 1979 cop comedy Hot Stuff.
NOTE: Please excuse the graininess of the trailer. For a movie this old and forgotten, I was lucky to find a trailer at all.
The trailer says that the movie is based on true events. That's only partially the case. Various dumb crook stories from all over the country were used as the basis for comic setpieces, but the plot is an original story. It's about a burglary squad based out of Miami that was in danger of shutting down due to a low conviction rate. The squad consisted of the neurotic Ernie (Dom DeLuise, who also directed), the gung ho Doug (country music star Jerry Reed, who also sang the theme song), the OCD and always horny Ramon (Luis Ávalos), the sarcastic Louise (Suzanne Pleshette), and the ornery Captain Geiberger (Ossie Davis). After catching a fence in the act of buying stolen goods, Doug had a radical idea. As a last ditch effort to save the squad, they would go undercover as a fencing operation, buying stolen goods themselves and catching everything on videotape. Their undercover operation got very successful, leading to trouble when the local mafia saw these upstarts as invading their territory.
Though the movie outright screams that it's from the late 70s, the gags still largely work. When he reviewed it at the time, Roger Ebert remarked that the movie did many of the same things that comedies did in the 30s and 40s, and I know what he means. There are plenty of one-off sight gags, especially during the buying montage early in the film, and they still get the laughs now. However, the character humor also works great. The characters are largely just the archetypes I spelled out in the last paragraph and not really fleshed out, but that works in the movie's favor. Ernie's constant spazzing out during the action scenes works perfectly and hasn't aged since the archetype is so familiar. In fact, he was the focal point of one the movie's funniest moments. What happens when a hopeless neurotic buys some high grade Colombian weed and is pushed to... ahem... sample it first? You get comic gold!
When I talked about Beverly Hills Cop in my Top 40 list, I mentioned how the action scenes were very impressive, especially since they involved comedians and not action stars. The same thing can be said here. There are only a few action sequences in the film, but they're entirely different from each other and cover all the bases for a 70s action movie. There's a car chase, a foot chase, a big shoot-out, a bomb scare, and a large-scale brawl at the end. Nothing gets repetitive, and the comedy is woven in very well. I like how the quirks displayed by the petty thieves earlier in the movie even factor in during the ending fight. They may not be that slick if you grew up with the Matrix movies, but they definitely work with the film. Between the fun action scenes and the comedy that still works, the movie is a very brisk hour and a half. Of course, I can't forget to bring up the movie's music. I have a fondness for 70s funk, and the fact that it powers this movie was a joy. Even Jerry Reed found his funk side with the theme song which made sitting through the opening and ending credits worthwhile (along with the jokes, that is).
I mentioned that this movie was ahead of its time in the headline, and it mostly comes from the use of videotape as a plot device. It may be hard to think about since we now live in a time where just about everyone pulls out their cellphones for selfies, but VHS video recording was still new technology in 1979. While live recording was part of movies like Peeping Tom and TV shows like Candid Camera before this movie, this one did it in such a way that likely inspired studios in the future. I wouldn't be surprised if reality shows like Cops and World's Dumbest Criminals were inspired by this film. I should point out, however, that this movie is rated PG only because PG-13 didn't exist yet. Four-letter words are flung around a lot, one gag involves pages torn out of adult magazines that definitely show... things, and there's the aforementioned weed scene. It's all quite tame, but be careful if you're watching with kids around.
While Hot Stuff may be dated with its look, it still holds up as a very fun movie. The action is still exciting, and the comedy can still bring on the laughs. The characters are thinly sketched but are all likeable, even the crooks! (That's understandable since one of the crooks is Uncle Wally from Sesame Street! I'm not kidding!) I found a copy on DVD rather easily online. Check it out for an enjoyable blast from the past!
Any other movies worth another look? Let me know! Case dismissed.