At 25: “Hot to Trot”

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August 26, 2013 by billysparrow

A70-3441

Hot to Trot

Released: August 26, 1988

Starring: Bobcat Goldthwait, Dabney Coleman, Virginia Madsen, and the voice of John Candy

Certain movies seem like they were made simply as a result of a drunken bet at a late-night poker game. Beers were consumed, bluffs were called, and–bam–a few months later a film was thrust forth upon a flabbergasted public.

I had naturally assumed that this must have been the genesis of “Hot to Trot,” a film starring Bobcat–excuse me, Bob–Goldthwait and John Candy as the voice of Don, a talking horse. See what I mean?

Internet research, however, has proven otherwise. I discovered an article written by Andy Breckman (who also wrote the afore-written-about “Moving,” though he is credited for that and, thankfully for his résumé, not credited for this) in which he details how he was brought in to do rewrites on the movie. “Hot to Trot,” it turns out, was originally conceived as a vehicle for Joan Rivers (in the Goldthwait role) and Elliott Gould (as the voice of the horse). Wow. That somehow sounds even more ridiculous than what emerged. And apparently Elliott Gould didn’t wow preview audiences (a stunning development no doubt), so, according to Breckman, John Candy was brought in to read entirely new lines, which really wasn’t much of a visual problem because of the nature of portraying a talking horse in 1988 (or thirty years before that with “Mr. Ed”). It was a more difficult task for Breckman, though, who had to rewrite dialogue in which one half of the dialogue could not be changed. Breckman says that after completing this puzzle, Candy ad-libbed his lines anyway. Ah, the magic of movies.

Anyway, all that back story does little to take away from the enjoyment “Hot to Trot” brings. And that is because there is precious little enjoyment to be found anyway. It is–and I am certain this comes as a devastating surprise–not a very good movie. I would like to think I was bright enough to realize as much in 1988, but, let’s face it, the movie had Bobcat–sorry again, Bob–Goldthwait and John Candy. I was probably delirious (another bad John Candy movie of the era) with anticipation of the movie’s release and similarly euphoric when I saw the finished product. I mean, the summer started off with a movie with Dan Aykroyd and John Candy and was ending with a movie with Bobcat–shoot, I must stop doing this, Bob–Goldthwait and John Candy. This had to be the greatest year ever! Would life possibly get any better than this?

This is a question to be answered some other time. For now, let’s just focus on talking about “Hot to Trot.”

To be fair (and why would someone have a blog if he or she weren’t interested in being fair?), there are a handful of amusing moments in “Hot to Trot.” Not funny per se, but definitely amusing. Most of them are courtesy of Don, which is both expected and dismaying all at once. The line in the trailer where Don relays a message from his mom (who cannot speak human but can understand it…I thought you should know that, lest you find yourself confused at the logical progression of a movie with a talking horse) asking Fred (Goldthwait) what it’s like to face someone during sex is perhaps the best line of the movie. Yes, I know. But really, it is. The rest of the dialogue is along the lines of the repartee in this scene.

You might also want to make note of the undeniable chemistry between Virginia Madsen and Goldthwait. The film wisely doesn’t go much into their relationship (they go on a date, she finds out there’s a horse in his apartment, and then they’re a couple), and one gets the sense that Madsen would have been happier feigning romantic interest in Joan Rivers, or perhaps even a horse voiced by Elliott Gould.

Dabney Coleman, who as the severely lisping Jerry Caesar in “Dragnet” proved that he will fully commit to whatever malady you thrust upon him, assumes the thick glasses and massive horse-like overbite (I guess that qualifies as a gag?) of Walter Sawyer, Fred’s evil stepfather who is trying to push Fred out of the family brokerage business so he can seize full control. Of course, as you’d expect, Don gives Fred a hot stock tip that he overhears in the stable, and Walter is flummoxed. But Don’s stock expertise eventually eludes him (he champions a brand of oats he initially finds delicious but ultimately makes him sick), leading to the situation featured in the previous clip. But first there’s this frantic attempt by Don to sell off his shares of Indio Oats. Note the subtle use of cartoon sound effects, the true hallmark of any good comedy.

It occurs to me that I have just spent a significant period of time recapping the plot of “Hot to Trot” on a picture-perfect Sunday afternoon. I hope you appreciate what I am doing for you. What’s that? You didn’t ask me to do this? Are you sure? I could’ve sworn you did. Oh well. I might as well keep going. It’s almost dark anyway.

I seem to recall writing a few minutes ago that there were several amusing moments in “Hot to Trot.” And then I mentioned one. So let me point out a few sight gags that are kind of funny. The first is during Don’s retelling of how he rode the rails with a blind bluesman, in which Don is shone with a harmonica holder around his neck. Gold, no? And soon after that, we meet Lou, Don’s brother who is so obsessed with the Three Stooges that he has Moe’s haircut. Have you started laughing yet? Really? Well, I smiled a little at both. I suspect in 1988 I laughed.

I also smiled at a few sly references (seemingly ad-libbed by Candy, if Breckman is to be believed) made by Don. First, he tries to order flowers from the “Samurai Florist Shop,” which is, I’m assuming, a nod to Buck Henry’s earlier appearance (also uncredited) in the movie as Fred’s dad. Don also throws in a mention of the Shmenge Brothers (if you are not familiar with their monster hit “Cabbage Rolls and Coffee Polka,” you should be) when telling Don that they could take their act on the road. And, finally, as Don looks for inspiration down the stretch of the big race, he asks Fred for some motivation like the guy in “Rocky” (I didn’t write the line down, and my On Demand rental window has elapsed…I have failed you), a nod to another uncredited performer in the movie (it’s almost like people didn’t want to be associated with it…weird), Burgess Meredith (or at least someone who sounds a lot like Burgess Meredith), who voices Don’s dad and, later, Don’s dad reincarnated as a horsefly.

Little hits like that are good enough for a smile or even, if the mood is right (or there are drugs involved), a chuckle. But I think the director (he is credited, though I feel it’s only right not to mention his name) hoped the big laughs would come in this scene. So, hey, prepare for big laughs!

And, yes, I will point out that the effeminate neighbor at the end of the scene is played by Tim Kazurinsky. That’s right, “Police Academy” series lovers: Zed and Sweetchuck are together again! Why this wasn’t used as a major selling point in the advertising campaign is a question we may never get the answer to. Maybe since they weren’t really in any scenes together, the PR people didn’t want to be accused of fraud. Yes, that must be it. There is no other logical reason.

So, there you have it: “Hot to Trot.” I’ve watched it again so you don’t have to. Yes, I realize you didn’t have to in the first place. And I accept the idea that maybe, in fact, I didn’t have to either. But, if nothing else, I have assured that at least one person has ordered “Hot to Trot” from On Demand this year. Or in the last 5. Or maybe since On Demand started.

I am leaving my mark on history here, people.

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