Review: Hot Summer Nights

Hot Summer Nights
6 10

PLOT: A teenaged boy (Timothée Chalamet) sent to stay with his aunt for the summer in Cape Cod, inadvertently gets tangled up in drug dealing when he falls under the spell of a local weed dealer (Alex Roe) and his bombshell sister (Maika Monroe).

REVIEW: BLOW, GOODFELLAS, BOOGIE NIGHTS and a dash of RISKY BUSINESS. Those are the movies writer-director Elijah Bynum clearly watched over-and-over when scripting his 1991-set drug dealing, coming-of-age tale HOT SUMMER NIGHTS. Benefitting from a star turn by the newly hot Oscar nominee Timothée Chalamet and a Spotify-friendly soundtrack, this easy-to-watch if unoriginal outing should do brisk business on VOD for distributor A24, even though it lacks any of the staying power embedded in every frame of the movies Bynum comes a little too close for comfort to copying.

Dialing into early nineties nostalgia, HOT SUMMER NIGHTS is polished enough that I’m surprised it never showed up at TIFF or Sundance, although the fact that it made its festival debut before CALL ME BY YOUR NAME’s release may have something to do with it. Were this to have hit the circuit a year later, I’m certain it would have gotten a bigger rollout. While often predictable, Chalamet’s effective as the spoiled teen who goes hog wild when left to his own devices in Cape Cod for a summer. No sooner does he step off the bus than he’s hiding weed for Alex Roe’s heartthrob dealer Hunter Strawberry (what a name!), getting high, and joining his new found pal in business. It only takes place over eight weeks or so, but before July 4th, Chalamet and Roe are already driving a hot sports car and running the town like kings.

One of the problems with HOT SUMMER NIGHTS is that the crime aspect of the story has to compete for screen time with the more marquee-friendly romance between Chalamet and Monroe, and a distinct lack of chemistry between them means you’ll be annoyed any time the focus shifts. Monroe is an excellent actress, but her part is the two-dimensional town vixen. She never gets her own agency, with her defining trait being that she’s hot. We never really get to know what makes her tick, and the oddball relationship with her homicidally possessive brother isn’t convincing.

It doesn’t help that Roe’s character is similarly flat, and he’s not able to hold the screen here the same way Chalamet does. He only really gets a pulse of his own during a late scene where he has a heart-to-heart with Thomas Jane’s seen-it-all local cop (a good performance), but it’s too late by this point, and his actions during the climax are inexplicable.

I also get wanting to focus the action on a single summer, but too much happens in too short a period to really make this feel like a believable pseudo crime saga, with Chalamet and Roe hustling dime bags for about five minutes before scoring pounds from Emory Cohen’s evil kingpin. Within about twenty minutes of that, Chalamet’s looking to score coke – a pretty big leap from weed dealing for a teen. It all happens too fast.

Bynum tries to dazzle us with a non-stop soundtrack of hits from the late eighties/early nineties, but too many of his big, bravura sequences are knockoffs. A big drug dealing montage set to “Tarzan Boy” is a direct lift from BLOW, while a climactic meeting with a coke guru (a wired William Fichtner) is a transparent attempt to redo the Alfred Molina scene in BOOGIE NIGHTS. Again – Bynum’s made a good-looking, proficient film – but it’s so unoriginal.

All that said, as a VOD rental, HOT SUMMER NIGHTS really isn’t half bad. Chalamet’s performance is magnetic, and the fast-pace and nostalgia factor make it fun – even if it’s not half the movie it’s aspiring to be. At least it’s never boring, and that’s something that can’t be said about a lot of things these days.

Source: JoBlo.com



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