BNFF10 REVIEW: Hot Tamale [2006]

“You better know so Wonderbread”

Between the serious faces portrayed on the poster and the heist gone wrong plot synopsis, I had no idea Hot Tamale was going to be as much of a comedy as it is. Beginning with the bizarre death of lead Harlan Woodriff’s father, the kooky family is huddled around the frozen corpse while the son stays in the background wondering if he’d ended up in the wrong family. It all has an air of drama—besides the inclusion of actors Harland Williams and Beth Grant—as we assume Randy Spelling’s Harlan is looking to excise himself for the podunk environment as an intelligent kid with aspirations of a higher calling. And then the reality of what this film is comes through in the next scene with the introduction of salsa music to his limited sphere of worldly creations by exchange student Caesar Lopez, (Matt Cedeño). Interrupting his friend in the act of having sex to find out what those awe-inspiring sounds were—the salsa, not the feminine shrieks of pleasure—a desire to travel west and become a timbale drummer is formed. Yes, that is the main plot point all the drugs, sex, hitmen, diamond thieving, and back country naïveté revolves around.

So, right from the get-go, you realize the proceedings are a completely tongue-in-cheek look at a fish-out-of-water guy lucking his way through surviving life in Los Angeles. Most of the jokes fall flat—although the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival audience I saw it with seemed to be having a great time laughing—and the performances are all hammy, but somehow I did have an enjoyable time with the cast of characters and asinine situations they put themselves in. The fact that this white boy with no dance moves can be good with the timbales let alone win over a hardcore Hispanic community’s salsa band is unfathomable in itself, but getting the gorgeous Diora Baird as a girlfriend—her complete lack of being bashful is admittedly a high point in the film’s enjoyment factor—and a Ricky Martin wannabe, only straight, in Caesar as a best friend can be nothing but comical. The real surprise, however, is that I found Spelling’s wide-eyed innocent to be endearing in a Randy Quaid from Kingpin type of way. The guy won me over by never losing that quality, either showing some acting skill or working because he has none.

The adventure truly begins at a rest stop on Harlan’s trek to LA from Wyoming. He meets Jason Priestley’s Jude, a well-dressed businessman on the run from the men in a recently arrived car. The scene is funny due in part to the two engaging in an interesting conversation pertaining to ostrich meat and the cameo by Sandy Martin, who has made a career of using gender-obscurity for both jokes, in this film, and drama, in “Big Love”. Sean Blakemore and Mike Starr arrive to make everyone’s life a living hell as they search for Jude’s bag, recently left in Harlan’s truck before he moseys along on his way. Blakemore is effective as the badder bad cop in this duo, while Starr pretty much rehashes his role from Dumb and Dumber as the good bad cop—not necessary a bad thing by any means. Their constant bickering and miscommunication as far as violence level goes leads to many good laughs portraying the city folk juxtaposition to Harlan’s clueless country bumpkin. Spelling’s character learns the ropes quickly, though, learning he can’t leave valuables in his car without risk of theft, that beautiful women launder their clothes while naked in order to wear what they’ve cleaned, and a hidden pot farm can come in handy when you need to have twenty thousand dollars.

In the end, however, besides a few funny exchanges like the pot-high paranoia panic attack, a bunch of familiar face cameos including “Weeds” actress Renee Victor, a sexy bedroom romp by Baird to a rock song that did catch my ear, and many culture clash moments, Hot Tamale is no more than a decent time for when you have nothing else to do. If you enjoy stupid comedy—which most of America does—you won’t be too disappointed, but don’t expect anything more than that. It is always fun to watch actors looking like they are involved and having a good time without the burden of expectations to live up to, although I’d have enjoyed my time more if the story was stronger and not just a bunch of tired aspects culled from better movies in hopes of achieving success. So, if you feel the need to go out and see this film because you are a huge Randy Spelling fan and live the goal of seeing everything he is involved with, I won’t say avoid it like the plague; I did laugh a few times and never felt bored. However, if you are looking for a recommendation from me to say go out and see this movie, I’m sorry but I’ll have to decline.

Hot Tamale 5/10 | ★ ★

photography:
[1] From left, Jason Priestley (in the role of Jude) and Randy Spelling in the film “Hot Tamale” 2006 directed by Michael Damian.
[2] Diora Baird in the role of Tuesday in the film “Hot Tamale” 2006 directed by Michael Damian.

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