Thursday, January 6, 2011

WHITE HOT (1989)

Robby Benson proves to be a threat on multiple levels in the thankfully dated “White Hot,” a vaguely moral tale about the bummers of 1980s materialism and casual drug. Benson not only directs and sings several ill-placed songs here, but also stars as the film’s protagonist, Scott, an unemployed yuppie whose finances are crumbling beneath the weight of his girlfriend Vanessa’s (Tawny Kitaen) high-end lifestyle.

When word gets back to king pin Charlie Buick (Danny Aiello) that hot shot pusher Butchie is blaming him for all the weak ass cocaine he’s been peddling, Buick quickly dispatches his reluctant nephew, Angelo, to whack the bum. Butchie hears about the hit and decide to blow town, and strange circumstances lead the dealer to appoint the financially strapped Scott as his stand-in for the next few weeks. Scott reluctantly accepts and contrives a clean excuse to explain his absence from home.

Vanessa eventually finds out what Scott is really up to. She’s initially angry, but when she sees how much Scott is taking in, she falls in line. Eventually, Vanessa becomes a liability when she gets hooked on the crack supply. This leads to Vanessa’s infidelity, as she starts fucking dudes to meet her appetite for narcotics. From there, we follow Scott down a dark path of drug fuelled destruction and ultimate revenge.

This film has an odd saving grace in the form of the Vanessa character, who is so overbearingly realistic that she stomps out Benson’s litany of hilariously awful creative choices. Generally, female characters either fall at one far end of a spectrum, and rarely in between. They are either infuriatingly naïve and pure, or they’re evil right out of a Marvel comic. However, there is nothing remotely comic bookish about Vanessa. She epitomizes the sort of mean craziness I have routinely experience in real life. For instance, she goes on a coke binge and then fucks a bunch of dudes. When Scott finds out, she turns the tables, and pulls a victim card out of thin air like she’s motherfucking David Blaine. Scott is somehow a bastard even though he finds her naked, in his bed, with two dudes, and he deserves to suffer for it. Bold exhibitions of total bat shit female logic such as this provide a mantle of realism which grounds the rest of the story.

Like almost any film of this scale and from this period, appreciation is entirely dependent upon how realistic your expectations are going in to it. As it stands, “White Hot” is an entertaining time waster, but it could have potentially been a very good film. The script is character driven without very minor character development. The parallels between Angelo and Scott, as well as Scott’s metamorphosis from average Joe into hardened criminal are sadly wasted opportunities. The movie also suffers from tonal calamity. Aiello’s nonsensical face off with comedian Judy Tenuta is a glaring example of the damaging variety littered throughout the first part of the film. The unintentional laughs are always worth something, but the performances are fun the payoff is satisfying. This is worth a look for fans of 1980s anti-drug PSAs.

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