Review: ‘Hot Seat’ (2022), starring Kevin Dillon and Mel Gibson

July 22, 2022

by Carla Hay

Mel Gibson and Kevin Dillon in “Hot Seat” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Hot Seat” (2022)

Directed by James Cullen Bressack

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Mexico, the dramatic film “Hot Seat” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An information technology customer service worker is forced by an anonymous caller to do robberies by computer, or else a bomb strapped underneath his office chair will be detonated. 

Culture Audience: “Hot Seat” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Kevin Dillon and Mel Gibson, as well as to anyone who likes watching idiotic and tacky thrillers.

Mel Gibson, Eddie Steeples and Shannen Doherty in “Hot Seat” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

The disastrously awful “Hot Seat” is about a computer hacker trapped in a chair that’s rigged with a bomb. Viewers of “Hot Seat” will feel like they’re trapped watching another kind of bomb: this atrocious movie. “Hot Seat” is so egregiously terrible, it seems almost like a parody of bad movies, until you see that everyone involved in making this putrid pile of filmmaking is taking it way too seriously.

Directed by James Cullen Bressack, “Hot Seat” is just scene after scene of idiotic dialogue, cringeworthy acting and sloppy filmmaking. A movie with this type of plot should be suspenseful, but “Hot Seat” just drags with no suspense and a lot of time-wasting nonsense to fill up the scenes. Collin Watts and Leon Langford co-wrote the abysmal “Hot Seat” screenplay, which obliterates credibility just like the bomb that threatens to obliterate the movie’s protagonist.

“Hot Seat” takes place in an unnamed city in New Mexico, but the movie was actually filmed in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The beginning of the movie shows an unidentified person using a remote-controlled device to set off a bomb that blows up a car in a place called Neil Park during the daytime. The terrible CGI visual effects in “Hot Seat” look very fake and almost laughable.

A few miles away, an information technology (IT) customer service employee named Orlando Friar (played by Kevin Dillon) is outside his house when he hears the bomb going off. Orlando doesn’t look around to find out the bomb noise’s origin and to see if he might be in imminent danger. If Orlando had looked around, he would’ve seen the cloud of smoke from the bomb. It’s one of many indications in “Hot Seat” that Orlando might be tech-smart, but he’s stupid when it comes to having common sense.

When Orlando goes in his house, he asks his wife Kim Friar (played by Lydia Hull): “Did you hear that? It sounded like a bomb went off.” Kim replies sarcastically, “No, but I heard police sirens, and I thought maybe they were coming for you.” In this bomb-themed story, Orlando will soon find out that Kim is about to blow up their marriage.

On this particular day, Orlando and Kim’s teenage daughter Zoey Friar (played by Anna Harr) will be celebrating her birthday with a party at the family home. Kim has been excitedly preparing for this party. Zoey’s age isn’t stated in the movie, but she looks like she’s about 16 years old. Orlando tells Kim that he’ll have to miss the party because he unexpectedly has to work that day at his office job, to fill in for an employee who called in sick.

Apparently, Orlando has made work a bigger priority than his family too many times for Kim to take. An angry Kim hands Orlando divorce papers and tells him that she was going to wait until after the party to give him the divorce papers, but she says that Orlando has now given her no choice. As far as Kim is concerned, their marriage is over.

Orlando whines, “How long are you going to keep punishing me?” Kim replies, “We have tried everything. I just can’t.” Orlando and Kim agree not to tell Zoey about the divorce until after Zoey’s birthday party. Feeling rejected and somewhat in shock, Orlando goes to his office job. It’s at a company called We Save You I.T., which gives customer service support for people with computer-related technical problems.

The movie implies that Orlando is going into the office on a weekend, because he and another co-worker are the only ones in the office, which is furnished like a typical non-descript call center. The co-worker’s name is Enzo (played by Michael Welch), and he’s a talkative employee who’s about 20 to 25 years younger than Orlando. At the office, Enzo and Orlando watch a TV news report about the bomb going off in Neil Park. Enzo gives the impression that his work shift has ended, so he eventually leaves.

The first customer call that viewers see Orlando getting is from an elderly woman who wants help because she says her “computer died.” Based on what this customer says, Orlando quickly determines that she is completely computer illiterate and wouldn’t be able to handle a troubleshooting walk-through with him. Instead, Orlando takes a shortcut and hacks into the customer’s computer to fix the problem.

Orlando and Zoey then do a video chat, where she’s disappointed but not surprised that he decided to go to work instead of her birthday party. During this video chat, Orlando sees an illustration of a red skull mysteriously appear and flicker on his computer screen. And then, Orlando gets some cryptic text messages on his phone: “Did you kiss your daughter goodbye?” and “Bad news, red knight.”

Meanwhile, two police officers are playing chess at police headquarters while they exchange mild insults with each other. Wallace Reed (played by Mel Gibson) is a stereotypical middle-aged grizzled cop who thinks he’s better and smarter than his younger colleague Jackson (played by Eddie Steeples), who thinks that Wallace is old and out-of-touch. It’s an older cop/younger cop cliché that has been overused in too many movies. In other words, “Hot Seat” will have a very predictable subplot of two clashing cop partners who have to find a way to work together to solve a case.

Wallace and Jackson are called to the scene of the bombing in Neil Park. They find out that a man who was near the bomb when it went off has died. Wallace states the obvious out loud: “I don’t think this was a chance victim.” Get used to more of this mind-numbing dialogue. “Hot Seat” is full of it.

Back at Orlando’s office, the person who has been contacting him has now begun calling him and has hacked into a computer screen that’s directly across from Orlando’s desk. The voice is disguised, but it’s obviously a man’s voice. And it’s how Orlando finds out that there’s a bomb strapped underneath his chair and that the caller can see Orlando’s every move.

What does this caller want? He knows that Orlando has extensive computer hacking experience and wants Orlando to hack into a bank and transfer $2 million into Orlando’s bank account. But that’s not all. The caller also wants Orlando to hack the computer system of a company called Templer Bonds, whose specialty is security boxes for wealthy people to store valuables worth millions. Orlando is ordered to get the access codes for Templer Bonds accounts.

The caller threatens Orlando by saying that if Orlando tries to escape or call for help, the caller will set off the chair bomb and then kill Zoey. The caller knows so much about Orlando, he shows on the nearby computer screen that he has a copy of the divorce papers that Kim gave Orlando earlier that day. The caller then makes a snide comment that it’s too bad that Orlando’s personal life is already a mess while Orlando is being held hostage.

As Orlando is trapped at his desk, he gets an unexpected visitor: A woman named Ava Adamson (played by Kate Katzman) suddenly shows up in the office and says she’s looking for Enzo. According to Kate, Enzo invited her to visit him at the office. Orlando says that Enzo isn’t there. And it should come as no surprise that Ava becomes a hostage victim too.

Where is this movie going? Who is the mystery caller? And will anyone care when Orlando reacts like a dimwit? For example, after he’s been told to commit these crimes under duress, Orlando tells the caller he’ll do it under one condition: “Okay, one thing: I need my music.” The caller replies, “As long it’s not country.” It’s just a pathetic attempt for “Hot Seat” to have some comedy.

Orlando soon finds out that the $2 million transfer to his bank account was to frame Orlando and make it look he’s the bomber and acting on his own. And so, when the police department gets involved, they think Orlando is the chief culprit. The caller says that if Orlando doesn’t publicly take the blame for the Neil Park bombing, the bomb under Orlando’s chair will go off, and the caller will follow through on his threat to kill Zoey.

The mystery caller forces Orlando to give a false confession on a live video that is seen by law enforcement, the media and the general public. Orlando is told to act like he’s an angry extremist who hates corporations and rich people. Eventually, more of Orlando’s background is revealed to show why the caller knows so much about Orlando.

Meanwhile, the caller gives some clues to Orlando about the caller’s background. The caller says he grew up on a farm, where he made his first bombs out of fertilizer, and his father was a violent alcoholic. Even with these clues, Orlando can’t do much with this information because every move he makes is being watched.

Police chief Pam Connelly (played by Shannen Doherty) immediately thinks that Orlando is the guilty party and needs to be taken down. Wallace isn’t so sure and wants to explore the theory that Orlando is being forced to commit these crimes. Kim insists that Orlando isn’t capable of being a murderer and a thief. You can almost do a countdown to the scene where Kim and Zoey aren’t just helpless bystanders but want to get involved in helping Orlando.

Wallace, Jackson and another cop named Sergeant Tobias (played by Sam Asghari) are ordered to solve the case. It just leads to useless scenes of cops yelling and guns being pulled when the cops surround the office building where Orlando is trapped. No one in the movie’s cast does a very good job in portraying these hollow characters. Ava is depicted as a ditzy blonde, with “Hot Seat” director Bressack making sure that there are leering camera angles that showcase her breasts.

Meanwhile, the “Hot Seat” filmmakers didn’t think about how illogical it is for the criminal caller to get the police to target Orlando before Orlando could complete the task of getting the access codes. How dumb does this villain have to be to get the hostage possibly arrested before the hostage does what the villain wants the hostage to do? “Hot Seat” is nothing but illogical garbage piled on top of more illogical garbage. You know a movie like “Hot Seat” is unwatchable when even the action scenes look badly staged and will induce boredom.

Lionsgate released “Hot Seat” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on July 1, 2022. The movie is set for release on Blu-ray and DVD on August 9, 2022.

Review: ‘Frank and Penelope,’ starring Billy Budinich, Caylee Cowan, Kevin Dillon, Lin Shaye, Johnathon Schaech, Donna D’Errico and Brian Maillard

June 13, 2022

by Carla Hay

Kevin Dillon, Caylee Cowan and Billy Budinich in “Frank and Penelope” (Photo courtesy of Redbud Studios)

“Frank and Penelope”

Directed by Sean Patrick Flanery

Culture Representation: Taking place in Texas, the dramatic film “Frank and Penelope” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After a young man finds out his wife has been cheating on him, he runs off with a stripper, and they end up in a remote-area motel that’s run by deranged religious fanatics.

Culture Audience: “Frank and Penelope” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching tacky, bottom-of-the-barrel movies with confused tones and sloppy filmmaking.

Johnathon Schaech in “Frank and Penelope” (Photo courtesy of Redbud Studios)

With a plot about outlaw lovers on the run, and with flashes of quirky comedy, “Frank and Penelope” desperately tries to be like “Wild at Heart,” the 1990 film written and directed by David Lynch and starring Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern. “Frank and Penelope,” which does everything wrong that “Wild at Heart” gets right, is a time-wasting bore with a nonsensical story and terrible acting. The movie is also a tonal mess, as if the filmmakers couldn’t decide if “Frank and Penelope” was going to be a crime drama, a horror movie or a dark comedy.

Sean Patrick Flanery, an actor who’s starred in his fair share of forgettable B-movies, makes his feature-film debut as a director and screenwriter with “Frank and Penelope.” Unfortunately, Flanery (who has a small role in “Frank and Penelope”) now has the dubious distinction of directing himself in one of the worst movies of his career. It’s not just a B-movie. It’s B-movie trash. How trashy is “Frank and Penelope”? There’s a scene where someone urinates on someone else’s face before shooting that person to death.

“Frank and Penelope,” which was filmed on location in Texas (including the Austin area), had the potential to be fun and interesting. And there are certainly enough talented cast members who could have brought a lot more charisma to the story than they’re allowed to bring in this train wreck. However, “Frank and Penelope” is derailed by too many half-baked ideas and shallow characters that are forced into the already weak and unoriginal plot.

Stop if you’d heard this plot before: A man and a woman, who’ve become lovers, are on the run together because they’ve (1) stolen money or committed another crime; (2) are trying to hide from someone who’s out for revenge; or (3) trying to evade law enforcement. And in some movies, such as “Frank and Penelope,” all of the above apply.

It all starts when Frank (played by Billy Budinich)—whose job is never revealed and who looks like he’s trying to be like a modern-day James Dean—comes home and is shocked to see his wife Becky (played by Cherilyn Wilson) having sex with an man named Chad (played by Mike Bash), whom Frank suspects is Becky’s fitness instructor. Becky and Chad don’t see Frank, who angrily to take off and go to a strip club. At the strip club, Frank is seduced by a dancer named Penelope (played by Caylee Cowan), who’s trying to be like a modern-day Marilyn Monroe, with a breathy baby-doll voice, but with a Texas twang.

Penelope is only turning on the charm with Frank so that she can steal his credit card, which she gives to the strip club’s sleazy, cocaine-snorting manager (played by Flanery), who doesn’t have a name in the movie. The manager ends up physically assaulting Penelope in a back room, but Frank hears the ruckus and comes to Penelope’s rescue. Penelope and Frank steal the manager’s gun and a small pile of cash before making their getaway. Frank and Penelope then have sex somewhere on the open road before they check into a remote-area, dumpy motel called the Quicksilver Motel, where strange things start to happen.

Meanwhile, the movie has a subplot about a traveler in her 20s named Molly Dalton (played by Sydney Scotia), who gets a flat tire on a deserted freeway. Molly doesn’t have a spare tire, so she reluctantly gets help from a creepy and greasy-looking driver named Cleve (played by Brian Maillard), who tows her car to the Quicksilver Motel, where he works at the front desk. On the way to the motel, scumbag Cleve rubs Molly’s leg inappropriately, and it looks like it will turn to sexual assault, but Molly stops him from putting his hand further up her leg.

The rest of “Frank and Penelope” is a back-and-forth slog about what Frank, Penelope and Molly experience at the Quicksilver Motel. The motel’s other employees who are seen in the movie are Cleve’s fanatically religious wife Mabel (played by Donna D’Errico), who is the motel manager and who also goes by the name Mabelline; a slovenly cook and handyman named Cookie (played by Charley Koontz); and Cookie’s downtrodden and mostly mute wife Magda (played by Jade Lorna Sullivan), who is a cashier in the motel’s diner.

Magda looks and acts like an abused and terrified woman with post-traumatic stress disorder. Lin Shaye has a useless cameo as a motel customer named Ophelia, who gets offended by Mabel’s religious preaching and leaves in a huff. The motel has a lounge with a table called the Truth Table, which Mabel uses to get customers to tell her the truth. Yes, this part of the plot is as bad as it sounds.

Kevin Dillon shows up as a stereotypical “out on a deserted freeway looking for trouble” cop named Sheriff Dalton, who crosses paths (at different times) with Frank and Penelope, as well as with Molly. Sheriff Dalton is a completely hollow character with no surprises. And then there’s a platinum-blonde weirdo named Chisos (played by Johnathon Schaech), who thinks he’s a messiah or a prophet. Chisos is seen in the movie’s opening scene and isn’t seen again until the last 30 minutes of the movie.

“Frank and Penelope” just rambles along with no real purpose and nothing that will make viewers really care about any of the characters. The sex scenes are unremarkable. As the “seductress” Penelope character, Cowan tries too hard to be coquettish. It all looks so forced and phony, including the movie’s attempt to make Budinich reminiscent of a 1950s movie star, similar to the aforementioned James Dean.

The fake-looking “romance” in the story isn’t helped when Penelope utters atrocious lines, such as saying she gets turned on when Frank shows “pure rage.” She adds, “If a man don’t fly into a rage, then he’s not in love.” But what Frank and Penelope have isn’t love. It’s just lust from two people who are desperate to run away from the lives that they had before they met each other.

And did we mention that most of this story is a flashback? It’s a flashback that’s being told by an unnamed hospital nurse (played by Sonya Eddy), who has Frank’s journal and is reading it aloud as part of the movie’s voice narration. Someone who was at the Quicksilver Motel is in a coma in this hospital, and this nurse is attending to him while he’s bedridden and while the nurse is reading Frank’s journal. Frank met Penelope four days before. Most of the movie shows what happened in those four days, because Frank kept a journal of what occurred, even though he’s such an airhead, he can barely articulate four sentences in a row.

Don’t expect the movie to explain why this nurse would have Frank’s journal. It’s an example of how ridiculous and pointless everything is in this garbage movie. There’s also some idiotic violence that does nothing substantial for the story. The end of “Frank and Penelope” makes it obvious that Flanery had a sequel in mind, but this movie is such an abomination to filmmaking, no one in their right mind will want a sequel.

Redbud Studios released “Frank and Penelope” in select U.S. cinemas on June 3, 2022. The movie is set for release on digital and VOD on July 12, 2022.

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