Movie Review: Young Teens’ lives are upended, but Maybe “1-800-Hot-Nite” can help

A hormonal kid sees his parents and baby brother hauled off by the police and relies on his equally clueless peers and a phone sex operator for guidance in the unlikely one-night odyssey “1-800-Hot-Nite.”

It’s not exactly a breakout film for second time feature director Nick Richey (“Low, Low”), but it’s a gritty and sometimes surprising “coming of age” outing, if anything that momentous can happen in a single night. It’s a step up, and the kids are engaging actors and characters, and it leaves you will a little hope, always a nice way to finish.

Pals Tommy, O’Neil and Stevie are latchkey kids, wandering the night in a corner of SoCal where the working poor live within sight of the folks with pools and possibilities.

Tommy (Dallas Dupree Young) has gotten his hands on a credit card and has maybe the last phone booth in that time zone all picked out. They’re calling that sexy lady in all the free weekly back pages ads, Ms. 1-800-Hot-Nite.

Half-brothers O’Neil (Gerrison Machado) and Stevie (Mylen Bradford) crowd into the booth, all of them in a 12-14 age range. They don’t know how to use a credit card, much less how to talk to a phone sex operator. Not to hear them tell it.

“If there was a chick here right now, I’d…”

Yeah? You’d “what?”

Tommy struggles through a “ninety-nine cents a minute” conversation before the other two blow their cover. Their lack of game, and cluelessness about that lack, is obvious when they try and peep in on some local teen girls they know taking a hot tub break. Of course they’re “caught.”

The boys share stolen Vicodin, but in their plans to up the ante with some stolen beers Tommy finds himself bargaining with his equally irresponsible Dad (DaJuan Johnson) for the brews before bearing witness to a police raid that grabs all the guys at their poker game, including Tommy’s hated stepmom (Nicole Steinwedell).

Tommy and his “57 Posse” pals hot-foot it rather than letting Tommy fall into a welfare worker’s clutches. They’ve got a credit card, access to cash via one kid’s paper route money, big appetites and that 1-800-Hot-Nite number should they wonder how to proceed with the night, with a prospective romance or just with life.

Richey scripts and directs some nicely eccentric sequences — a fast food joint encounter with the crazy “dog lady,” always in search of a pet no one has seen in living memory (she somehow still has a driver’s license), a paper route collection scene that goes terribly wrong when Tommy falls in the clutches of some 30-40ish shady characters who lure him in.

The trio argues, brags, lies, fights and over-shares with one and all as their swagger about experience with girls and “never lost a fight yet” boasting is checked and undercut.

The tension hanging over this comes from our fear for the kids and about how this evening will wrap up. The funny stuff has the ring of truth in every deluded lie, blurted -ut and debunked by what we can see with our own eyes.

The kids are good, the phone sex worker (Ali Richey) convincingly high-mileage but with a few redeeming qualities, and there’s a loose feel to the narrative of a film that tries to get by with no urgency or forward momentum whatsoever.

“Hot-Nite” isn’t great, isn’t terrible, but is not that far removed from the “Dogtown and Z-Boys” and other luridly picaresque tales of wayward childhood. An upbeat finale excuses some of the earlier sins, if not all of them.

Rating: unrated, drug abuse, profanity, crude sexual conversions

Cast: Dallas Dupree Young, Gerrison Machado, Mylen Bradford, Ali Richey, Nicole Steinwedell and DaJuan Johnson

Credits: Scripted and directed by Nick Richey. A Sight House release.

Running time: 1:37

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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