Rotund comedian Dom DeLuise could be hilarious in the right situations, whether he was cutting up with buddy Burt Reynolds on The Tonight Show or mugging in outrageous Mel Brooks movies. In the wrong situations, however, he was prone to cartoonish behavior like double-takes and pratfalls. In that context, it’s interesting to watch Hot Stuff, the only theatrical feature DeLuise directed, because, in theory, his performance in the picture offers a pure demonstration of his idea of comedy; no one guided DeLuise except DeLuise himself. Therefore, it’s a bummer to report that he delivers pretty much the same broad clowning here that he did elsewhere. It turns out DeLuise was simply one of those amiable performers best appreciated in small doses.
As for the movie itself Hot Stuff is very silly and not nearly as funny as it might have been. The script, co-written by veteran crime scribe Donald E. Westlake, has a fun idea: Four Miami cops set up a fencing operation to trap thieves. DeLuise plays Ernie, a nervous detective just shy of retirement, and country singer-turned-actor Jerry Reed plays Doug, his good-ol’-boy partner. Suzanne Pleshette plays Louise, a cop from another precinct who joins forces with the boys (and becomes Doug’s love interest). Together with a fourth cop (Luis Avalos), they rig a borrowed storefront with video equipment and lure unsuspecting criminals by paying top dollar for stolen loot. (The great Ossie Davis is wasted in a trite supporting role as their long-suffering commander.)
Yet, instead of the fraught predicaments one might expect from a story about police officers working undercover, Hot Stuff feels like a variety show, with the cops holding court in the storefront while a string of low-rent comedians enter and exit the scene, giving mini-performances as oddball crooks. At one point, towering funnyman Pat McCormick literally walks into the storefront and drops a string of lame one-liners, stopping just short of telling the police to tip their waitresses and try the veal. The episodic nature of the picture is ameliorated somewhat by a couple of chase scene/shootouts and by a subplot about the Mafia mistaking the cops for competitors.
A few of the bits are clever, like the finale in which the cops stage a spectacular mass arrest (which rings true with stories from the annals of real-life sting operations). However, the movie spends way too much time on Gong Show-grade comedians, to say nothing of inanity like a pie fight. Hot Stuff is watchable, but it’s not for discerning viewers. (Available through Columbia Screen Classics via WarnerArchive.com)
Hot Stuff: FUNKY