Friday, 21 January 2011

Hot to Trot (1988)

... transcends its hare-brained origins and the jarring inadequacies of its execution and unfetters itself from traditional filmmaking techniques and, indeed, any form of conventionally accepted Western logic...

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Hot to Trot (1988, Michael Dinner)

Starring: Bobcat Goldthwait, Dabney Coleman, Mary Gross, Burgess Meredith, Jocko Marcellino, and John Candy as ‘Don the Horse’

Box Markings:
Fetid cardboard slipcase.

Tagline: ‘When I talk, you’re going to laugh yourself hoarse.’

Trailers: The Catsup Chronicles, Dr. Ock’n’Roll, The Cleveland Steamer

“Ever see a horse make a phonecall?”

Upon the ungrieved-for death of his mother, idle rich-kid Fred P. Chaney inherits not only Don, a talking Buddhist horse with an innate understanding of the Dow Jones Index, but also her fifty percent stake in one of L.A.’s largest brokerage firms. Had he been played by a young Michael Douglas or a preening Sheen, we would already be baying for his over-privileged, pony-tailed head baked in a pie-chart, but since he is in fact essayed by surefire Parkinson’s candidate Bobcat Goldthwait this must be yet another underdog story and so we dutifully get behind the little prick.
'Get my agent on the horn, PDQ!'
The moustache twirler in these nascent corporate capers is ERH stalwart Dabney Coleman, who wisely chooses to play Fred’s scheming stepfather disguised behind a pair of distractingly massive and ornate spectacles whilst chewing on a mouthful of Scrabble tiles. Dabney tries everything in his Mephistophelean bag of tricks to get his hands on Fred’s half of the company, which amounts to offering the squawking buffoon five hundred dollars for it. Bobcat turns down both the offer and the opportunity of sitting back and collecting fifty percent of everything the firm makes by doing squat. Nope, he’s going to work! Soon he’s in montage mode – driving a Merc, wearing a shiny grey suit and having his office redecorated to the beat of The Rogue Traders’ near-miss, ‘Rock’n’Roll Loudmouth’.
Jag off
For reasons best known to anthropologists, seasoned Wall Street analysts or the scriptwriters, Don the Horse has hitherto kept his vocal dexterity and financial nous to himself, but immediately upon meeting Bobcat’s dangerously unstable lunatic he decides to impart a few insider nuggets to augment his new friend’s rudimentary financial insight. They hit paydirt first time out - by going long on ‘Indio Oats’ - and use the bread to move into a palatial white penthouse apartment replete with an atrium full of thunder and lightning that will go on to play no part in the plot whatsoever.

It is at this point that the film, like so many other ERH classics, transcends its hare-brained origins and the jarring inadequacies of its execution and unfetters itself from traditional filmmaking techniques and, indeed, any form of conventionally accepted Western logic.

Fred orders his half of the firm’s conference room painted mauve, ineffable Samurai florists are briefly engaged then as readily discarded and, in a scene that prefigures the austere majesty of Nathan Barley’s Cremaster Cycle by some years, Don stands erect in a vast minimalist living space pretending to be a statue while a stout Mexican maid hoovers around him and the soundtrack swells with accordion music. In another, a vast menagerie of birds and animals fill the (suddenly heavily ornamented) apartment and reduce this canticle to conspicuous consumerism to a psalm to squalor. A more fantastical Buddhist extension of Bunuel’s Exterminating Angel is hard to imagine.
'If you show me one more fucking photo of you and John Cusack, I swear...'
In a bid to reconcile the original plot strands with the emergence of so brittle a dream state, the final act sees Don and Fred attempting nothing less than to unite the divergent human and animal realms, art and commerce, the base and the spiritual into one ecstatic unifying whole by taking on Dabney’s prize nag in some horse race.

The outcome is unimportant.

The notion of the underdog is (momentarily?) in flux.

Dabney’s swearing like a docker.

Originally published in Little White Lies #10

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