Five women pushing 50 and older form a basketball team to promote breast-cancer awareness in “The Hot Flashes,” drawing groans and grimaces from their small-minded Texas community. A few cringes may also be directed at the five appealing actresses cast to play this sorry sisterhood, not because there’s anything so undignified about the subject of growing older, but because Susan Seidelman’s strained and soapy empowerment comedy gives them so little to do. Despite a Brooke Shields-led ensemble of thesps you’d like to see more of (just not here), this already-on-VOD airball seems unlikely to score much attention from its older target demo in limited theatrical venues.
Seen reading a copy of “Menopause for Dummies” early on — and made to look comically flushed and sweaty whenever possible, lest we still fail to grasp her over-the-hill condition — housewife Beth Humphrey (Shields) is determined to save the town’s mobile mammography unit, which has been shut down due to mismanaged funds. Even by the lax standards of comedies predicated on a talent-show/sporting-event climax, Brad Hennig’s script is pretty vague about exactly how an amateur women’s basketball team will raise the $25,000 needed to save the clinic-on-wheels, but never mind.
Beth’s reluctant recruits include not only shy, closeted Ginger (a red-haired Daryl Hannah) and trampy, chain-smoking Clementine (Virginia Madsen), but also Roxie (Camryn Manheim), who specializes in pot-laced baked goods, and town mayor Flo (Wanda Sykes), who’s seeking re-election and not looking to jeopardize her chances by doing anything that seems too “black.” None of these gals have set foot on a basketball court in years, but after a few rusty practice sessions and at least one catfight, they band together to take on their opponents, an excellent high-school girls’ team that includes Beth’s mortified teenage daughter, Jocelyn (Charlotte Graham).
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Providing the requisite villainy are high-school team captain Millie (Jessica Rothenberg) and her meddlesome mother (Andrea Frankle), a preening pair of Bible-thumping homophobes who represent merely the most grotesque of the many stereotypes on display. As it follows its core characters down an exceedingly predictable path toward self-realization (surprise, getting old doesn’t mean losing your mojo!), the pic pads out its 99-minute running time with innumerable training montages, three clumsy but functionally lensed games, an off-key karaoke performance by Sykes, and a tiresome subplot involving Beth’s philandering husband (Eric Roberts).
Assuming stock roles and Texas accents, Shields and her game fellow thesps make pleasant enough company; what’s demeaning isn’t that these underemployed actresses have been asked to embody the challenges facing women of a certain age, but that the material they’ve been given is so thin and mirthless. Seidelman, who explored the concerns of the 60-and-over set in 2005’s “Boynton Beach Club,” has a clear affection for her thesps and subject matter that doesn’t translate into anything particularly fresh or funny, despite the competent tech package.