Saturday, November 15, 2014

Hot Summer Week (1972)

          Also known as Girls on the Road, this muddled thriller involves hippie spirituality, horny teenaged girls, a lecherous guru, a PTSD-addled Vietnam vet, and young love that culminates in tragedy. Not only do the elements clash with each other so badly that Hot Summer Week is confusing and disjointed to watch, but each individual element is handled poorly. Despite possessing a certain measure of traffic-accident allure, this is misguided low-budget filmmaking on every level. The story, such as it is, starts when spoiled white girls Debbie (Kathleen Cody) and Karen (Dianne Hull) hit the road for a week’s vacation at a beach house. Right from the beginning, director Thomas J. Schmidt tries to portray the girls as carefree and spunky, but he actually reveals them to be inconsiderate, reckless, and stupid. They drive like maniacs because they’re distracted by activities like tossing bras into traffic, they treat hitchhikers terribly (stealing a guitar from a musician, shunning two would-be passengers for the crime of being flamboyantly gay), and they talk about nothing but their desire to get laid during their vacation. On the way to the beach house, the girls pick up hitchhiker Will (Michael Ontkean), who was recently discharged from an Army hospital after treatment for psychological problems.
          Despite the fact that Will’s twitchy and the fact that he carries a gun in his duffel bag, all Debbie can see is that he’s handsome. Turns out Will is an on-again/off-again resident at a progressive institute run by John (Ralph Waite), a touchy-feely therapist who helps his charges explore love. Karen digs the can’t-we-all-get-along vibe at the institute, but Debbie just wants to make out with Will—up to a point, since she’s all talk. The middle of Hot Summer Week is a mess of heavy-petting scenes, mind-expanding “experiences” at the institute, and silly PTSD flashbacks. (All of Will’s imaginary scenes are processed with a blue tint and a wobbly optical effect, while his war flashbacks seem to comprise stock footage from D-Day.) In the end, Hot Summer Week tries to be a little bit of everything, without committing sufficiently to any one genre—there’s not enough sex for the movie to qualify as an exploitation picture, the spiritual stuff is cartoonish and superficial, and the final sequence transforms Hot Summer Week into a full-on horror movie, complete with an axe-wielding psycho. Just as Debbie and Karen should have driven right by Will, the wise viewer should give Hot Summer Week a pass.

Hot Summer Week: LAME

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