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As the 1990s began, television stars from the previous decade starting attempting to make the jump to the big screen. Such was the case for Don Johnson, a huge star of the TV cop drama Miami Vice. He stars as a handsome drifter who comes into town and develops a crush on very young Gloria Harper (Connelly), who works at a car dealership. The dealer’s wife is Dolly (Virginia Madsen) who takes an interest in the drifter and the two begin an affair, though it’s aways Gloria on his mind. Complications ensue with betrayal and murder the end result.
Directed by the legendary Dennis Hopper, The Hot Spot is ultimately a forgettable, bland thriller that would be long lost in the pantheon of cinema but has remained in the know for one very specific reason: Jennifer Connelly. More precisely, a fully nude Jennifer Connelly. Of course, she handles herself well in her first ‘adult’ role, breaking from the innocent young girl persona of her previous successes, such as Labyrinth, and established the smoldering, playful woman she will embody for several more films. We were sold.
Meant to be a vehicle for supposed up and coming star Frank Whaley, who never quiet got the success he maybe should have had, this comedy caper follows Jim (Whaley), a young slacker, overnight janitor at a Target who finds himself with a possible new direction in life when Josie (Connelly), a daughter of a wealthy business man, distressed by her life at home, is locked in the department store. The two grow closer as the night passes and decide to head to L.A., but first they have to survive till morning since two petty thieves break in and cause some trouble.
Directed by Bryan Gordon, this light comedy would and could have been the film to make Whaley a star but the moment Connelly arrives, it’s all over. The radiating young beauty she is, she absolutely lights up the screen with intense sexuality and girl-next-door charm that sets her leagues apart from her male counterparts. Her ride on a children’s coin-operated horsey ride pretty much assured her a role in any movie after that. But aside from her obvious physical beauty, she was also really charming and funny and it was easy to see why audiences fell in love. Count us with them.
Connelly followed up Career Opportunities with another actor whose star was on the rise and should have taken off but never quite did. Billy Campbell was the headliner for Disney’s The Rocketeer, a well-received sci-fi action drama set in the 1930s where a young pilot, through circumstances, comes across a powerful prototype jetpack that allows him to fly at great speed. He and his mechanic pal use it to stop Nazis and save his best girl (Connelly), an aspiring actress who gets mixed up with a Nazi secret agent.
Directed by Joe Johnson, this fun action adventure doesn’t strive for realism, instead, attempting to and mostly succeeding in capturing that old-time serial film feel with some great performances and solid direction. Again, as good as Campbell (and bad guy Timothy Dalton) are, they are left to the peripheral as Connelly’s star burns brightest, absolutely radiating glamor. Stunning in every scene, her now trademark volatile mix of homespun charm and overt sexuality made watching her like a chemical addiction. Audiences wanted more. She obliged.
Connelly continued to act, working in television for a few years and appearing in some smaller films, but roared back to the spotlight in this 1950s era crime thriller about a special police unit who investigate a murder. Led by then big draw Nick Nolte, his small team of fedora-wearing cops had their own brand of crime and justice and stopped at nothing to get their man. While reviews were mixed, the film failed at the box office but has gained a steady, ravenous following and you can already guess why.
Directed by Lee Tamahori, Connelly plays the murdered woman. Her screen time limited, she is seen in flashback mostly, but when she appears, she melts the screen. Once again, the beautiful star strips nude and electrifies the story with some potent sexuality, which might seem gratuitous in writing, but is essential for motivating the male characters in the plot. Her breathtaking allure is the snare these men crumble under and her control over them is key to what drives them to do what they do. The movie is not as muddled as initial reviews lead to believe, and as the years pass, has become a much better film, made more so by Connelly’s impressive, bewitching presence.
One of the most influential sci-fi films since Ridley Scott‘s Blade Runner, Dark City is a masterpiece of storytelling, a visually-enrapturing tale of humanity and hope that follows the disturbing path of a man named John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) who wakes one day to a nightmare. To say more would be to ruin the film as it is a layered, complex experience that helped inspired many after it, including The Matrix.
Written and directed by Alex Proyas, Connelly plays Murdoch’s wife, a key character in a twisting story that sees reality being altered. While she is a supporting character, she is crucial and becomes the driving motivation for Murdoch. If there is a list of visionary and iconic image of films of the 1990s, Connelly’s striking pose on the edge of a pier is certainly among them. A must-see movie for sci-fi fans, it is also one of the most memorable for actress Jennifer Connelly who would take what she created here and in the decade prior into the next millennium, reshaping her career and earning her well-deserved place among the greatest female actors of her time.