Made as his MFA thesis film while Martin Brest studied at the American Film Institute, Hot Tomorrows has many of the silly hallmarks one associates with student films, such as an angst-ridden protagonist and pretentious flourishes reflecting the influence of classic European art cinema. However, the picture also demonstrates many of the things that Brest did so well in his subsequent Hollywood films of the ’70s and ’80s, notably offbeat characterizations and sly humor. (Let’s not talk about Brest’s dubious latter-day pictures, because if you’re a fan of 1992’s Scent of a Woman or 2003’s Gigli, we probably don’t share the same taste.) Shot in grungy black and white at unusual locations throughout Los Angeles, Hot Tomorrows is a dark comedy about a transplanted New Yorker trying to make it as a writer. Fixated on death, he spends a strange evening escorting a buddy from back home around the city, eventually landing in such unlikely places as a nightclub featuring weird performance artists and a mortuary that serves free coffee to the after-hours crowed. The plot also involves a cranky little person played by Hervé Villechaize and the life-sized figure of death—a skeleton in a black robe holding a scythe—that the protagonist uses for decoration in his living room. At various times, Hot Tomorrows is deep, funny, tragic, and weird.
Michael (Ken Lerner) is a gloomy youth preoccupied with memories of his dead aunt, so he spends his time writing depressing stories and taking night classes exploring Eastern theories about death. Louis (Ray Sharkey), just in from the Bronx, isn’t having any of this. Protesting in his loud dese-dem-dose accent, Louis says it’s time to ditch the heavy stuff and party. Unfortunately, both guys are broke, so they best they can do is bum around town and hope to stumble into something fun. Michael takes his pal to a club called the Paradise, where a strange musical troupe (played by an early version of nerd-pop band Oingo Boingo) performs. At the club, Michael and Louis befriend fellow Bronx guy Tony (Victor Argo) and his diminutive friend Alberict (Villechaize). Peculiar misadventures ensue. Considering his inexperience at the time, Brest does a remarkable job pulling naturalistic performances from his cast and unifying them into a cohesive style. This movie’s at its best during simple scenes of people talking, whether they’re bonding or fighting, and this movie’s at its worst whenever Brest gets arty with flashbacks, musical numbers, and narration. As gifted as Brest is behind the camera, it’s telling that he’s only written two of his subsequent features, adapting the wonderful Going in Style (1979) from Edward Cannon’s story and crafting the not-so-wonderful Gigli by himself.
Hot Tomorrows: FUNKY