Hot Pursuit

February 15, 2011

A few years ago a film called Tron got a lot of attention because of its elaborate computer-generated sequences, which wove in and out of a live-action story. The computer-animated stuff was pretty interesting, but the live-action material was lame and predictable enough to make the movie a flop.

The director of Tron, Steven Lisberger, has now made another film (he worked in animation before Tron). Hot Pursuit lacks high-tech experiments; it’s all just flesh-and-blood characters. Unfortunately, this is still Lisberger’s weak point, which makes Hot Pursuit as tepid as Tron without the welcome distraction of wild computer work.

It’s not awful in conception: A college kid (John Cusack) struggles to catch up with his girlfriend (Wendy Gazelle)) and her family while they’re on a Caribbean trip (filmed around Ixtapa, Mexico). But he has a run of bad luck. He keeps getting shanghaied, thrown in jail, that sort of thing, and his struggles provide the situation comedy.

Lisberger knows enough to lay the structure out well enough, but nothing about the film comes alive. It’s supposed to be an adventure comedy, but the laughs fall in dead spots and the lurch into violent action near the end—something about hijackers or terrorists, I’m not really sure—is awkward.

And Lisberger locks the movie into a tired and silly groove by having Cusack hook up with an old salt (an apparently unembarrassed Robert Loggia) who takes Cusack out on his sloop in pursuit of the girlfriend. This modern-day buccaneer swigs whiskey, rubs his pirate stubble, opens a can of Spaghetti-Os with an axe, and says things like, “Some of us drink from the fountain of knowledge; other gargle.” If the movie is giving us those choices, I think I’ll spit.

First published in the Herald, May 13, 1987

Such an odd grouping coming together here: the Tron guy, Cusack right after Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer (which made this movie seem like another in that chain), Ben Stiller in one of his first pictures (and dad Jerry), and of course Wendy Gazelle. You will find people who like it, because there are people who like everything.