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Case Number 01914

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Hot Pursuit

Paramount // 1987 // 92 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // May 29th, 2002

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All Rise...

The Charge

He's after the girl he loves. Everyone else is after him.

Opening Statement

An amiable, lightweight comedy/drama, Hot Pursuit is a typical "average guy against the odds" escapist fantasy built around the youthful talents of John Cusack. As befits such a disposable film, Paramount brings Hot Pursuit to disc in bargain basement fashion.

Facts of the Case

At the rarefied air of the Burnham Preparatory School for Boys, Dan Bartlett (John Cusack) has only a chemistry final exam between him and freedom. Relatively speaking, for this freedom is of the qualified sort, being as it grants him the joy of a sun-dappled vacation with his loyal, athletic girlfriend, Lori Cronenberg (Wendy Gazelle) as well as her father, Bill (Monte Markham) and Buffy (Shelley Fabares), who distrust their daughter's suitor. However, the momentary setback of failing that exam delays Dan just enough to miss the plane. And so it begins…

After reaching the island paradise, colorful locals sidetrack Dan just long enough for him to miss the boat that the Cronenberg family is leaving on for a multi-day cruise. More hijinks ensue. Dan must endure the trials of man, in the form of crazed sea dog "Mac" MacClaren (Robert Loggia), and nature, as well as a stint in jail, gunfire, explosions and other modest difficulties, as he valiantly struggles to catch up with his beloved. However, the Cronenbergs soon fall into the clutches of modern pirates, whose ranks include the annoying Chris Honeywell (Ben Stiller, in his movie debut) and the every crusty Victor Honeywell (Jerry Stiller).

All that Dan has to do is rescue his girl and her family from a bunch of determined, heavily armed pirates. No problem!

The Evidence

Some actors have that "everyman" quality, allowing them to inhabit a role with an appealing, unassuming air that perhaps despite their advantages (such as wealth, power, and so on), the audience is drawn into sympathy with them and their plight. Harrison Ford comes to mind as a premier example, though perhaps more so in recent years than when he began. Perhaps an even more difficult task is to have that endearing characteristic in one's youth, where the rewards of adolescence create the greater hazard of simply coming off as a smart-ass jerk!

John Cusack has that appealing quality, though perhaps having taken a quirky approach to his choice of material (Being John Malkovich, anyone?) he has had less opportunity to exploit it. However, being fortunate in that respect started his Hollywood career off well, with pleasant turns in Sixteen Candles and Stand By Me and as the well known stereophonic romantic in Say Anything. Hot Pursuit fits well with these films in the Cusack resume, though this is far less substantive, thoroughly disposable '80s fluff. Perhaps a share of the difficulty lies with writer/director Steven Lisberger, whose previous endeavor was the landmark Tron. To put it mildly, this is drastically different than that computer effects festival, and without the gee-whiz factor to fall back on, the flaws of handling a wholly human story are apparent.

Prep-school whiz Dan Bartlett is not particularly endearing as roles go. Being able to afford an expensive private education, his casual attitude towards school is not likely to endear the character to the general audience. Bartlett clearly comes from money, as do all of his colleagues and his attractive, lucre-laden girlfriend, whose parents casually invite Dan along for a hideously expensive Caribbean family vacation. Though the role could therefore very easily have slid into thoroughly obnoxious territory and with it Hot Pursuit, John Cusack single-handedly rescues the film from disaster. He's no miracle worker, but at least Hot Pursuit becomes a film that is watchable. When the light-hearted romantic misadventure takes an overly sharp turn into serious drama, the cartoonish antics are tolerable thanks to Cusack's charms.

Supporting Cusack in propping up Hot Pursuit are a pair of crusty comedians, revenge-minded sea dog Robert Loggia (Prizzi's Honor, Independence Day) and scheming pirate Jerry Stiller (The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Seinfeld, Zoolander). Their roles are merely cover to give these actors free reign with their natural character, and that's not a bad thing. As noted in the plot summary, this is Ben Stiller's movie debut. This is not an auspicious debut for the subsequently improved junior Stiller. His humor abilities (and acting talent) must have kicked in later in life.

The anamorphic video is at least a sign that Paramount did not wholly relegate Hot Pursuit's release to an afterthought. Overall quality is good, with a sprinkling of defects and undistinguished color saturation are the primary flaws, though the absence of digital artifacting is welcome.

The audio track is reportedly Dolby Surround, but even calling it a stereo track would be a charitable description. Nearly anything and everything is firmly fixed in the center channel. I do not recall any particular stereo (or surround) effect, though the dated '80s music is more pleasing and with improved lower strength than many other equally situated tracks of limited quality.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

There is not even the merest whisper of a scrap of extra content on this disc. Come on, Paramount, you parsimonious bean counters! You can't even dredge up a lousy, moth-eaten trailer? I've never understood a total absence of content. Why give up an opportunity to at least push upcoming releases or obscure catalog titles, even if none of it has anything to do with the disc in question?

Closing Statement

As a lightweight diversion or for a fan of John Cusack, Hot Pursuit is an acceptable rental, though the omission of any content makes that a harder recommendation. A purchase ($25 retail) of this overpriced disc is not recommended except for a Cusack completist.

The Verdict

Though the Court finds Hot Pursuit guilty, mercy is recommended, as the film is not without its charm. On the other hand, Paramount seems to have had another Attack of the 50 Foot Bean Counter, and deserves less consideration.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 88
Audio: 76
Extras: 0
Acting: 81
Story: 63
Judgment: 65

Perp Profile

Studio: Paramount
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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