Early in The Hot Flashes, Brooke Shields is seen reading Menopause For Dummies, and it doesn’t take long to realize that’s precisely what you’re watching. Menopause is only one aspect of the movie’s ham-handed paean to middle-aged womanhood, however. Having neglected to file some necessary paperwork, Shields learns that her small town’s mobile mammogram unit is on the brink of being decommissioned for lack of funds—she has just two months to raise $25,000. Her solution? Round up a few former high-school basketball stars—all of them female and pushing 50—and play three games against the school’s current girls’ team, which happens to include her daughter (Charlotte Graham). Nobody would ever believe that five long-past-their-prime women could beat a bunch of teenagers, Shields reasons, so they can bet on themselves and win a fortune, thereby potentially saving hundreds of other women from breast cancer. Even the team’s coach (Mark Povinelli) shapes his motivational halftime speeches as tributes to breast-cancer victims, including his own dearly departed mother. All that’s missing is a public service announcement about the dangers of untreated osteoporosis.
Given the dearth of movies about middle-aged women, it’s depressing that all anybody can apparently come up with is this sort of mindless “you go old girl” cheerleading. (Significantly, the screenplay was written by a man. Susan Seidelman directed, but her own brief glory days are as far in the past as those of her characters; “functional” would be a kind description of her work here.) Each of the players is a one-dimensional type—closeted lesbian Daryl Hannah, town slut Virginia Madsen, overweight pothead Camryn Manheim, glad-handing politician Wanda Sykes—and the movie just lazily works its way through the standard underdog-sports clichés, stopping every so often for such sterling displays of wit as Sykes performing Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” as “Hot Flash” on karaoke night. Only Shields looks as if she could once have been a star athlete, so one victory is achieved via bribing a referee and flagrantly fouling the younger girls at every opportunity—this is intended to be cute, it seems, and the audience is meant to cheer—while another relies on Shields’ daughter getting conveniently angry at her bitchiest teammate during the final quarter of the last game. But it’s all for a good cause, so just consider The Hot Flashes the world’s most ungainly and expensive leaflet about the importance of early screening.