Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

SCHWARZENEGGER SWEEPS: Red Heat (1988)


In 1987, “Lethal Weapon” came out, re-birthing what is widely known as the buddy cop movie. It was a sign that the action genre was already starting to change, moving away from the unstoppable super soldiers that Schwarzenegger and Stallone popularized only a few years earlier. When faced with this change, I can imagine Arnold saying: If you can’t machine gun them to death, join them! “Red Heat” was written and directed by Walter Hill, the no-nonsense action auteur who arguably first popularized the buddy cop movie with “48 Hrs.” “Red Heat” not only united Hill with Arnie but it also saw the director adding a distinguish gimmick to the buddy cop concept: What if the cops were from different countries?

In Soviet Russia, Moscow police officer Ivan Danko and his partner are on the trail of drug lord Rosta. The ambush goes completely awry. In the chaos, Rosta escapes and Danko’s partner ends up dead. Rosta escapes to Chicago, where he teams up with the local street gangs. Danko follows him and similarly teams up with hot-headed cop Art Ridzik. The American and the Soviet at first form a rough partnership. However, as they work together to nail the bad guys, following leads and getting into a few shoot-outs, an odd friendship forms.

“Red Heat” is essentially a fusion of the buddy cop movie and the culture clash comedy, both of which, not coincidentally, were popular at the time. Much of the humor comes from the Soviet Danko going up against American customs. Schwarzenegger puts his one-liners away, instead playing the straight man here. It’s actually a good decision, as Arnold’s dead-pan, strict delivery generates lots of humor. His reaction to a coin-operated hotel TV, which always plays porn? “Capitalism,” said dryly. When told about Miranda Rights, he brutalizes a witness anyway and says “Soviet way is more economical.” The Miranda Rights are actually something of a running gag throughout the film, a mildly amusing one too. More then once, the movie mines Danko’s ignorance of and indifference to Western traditions for okay laughs. This is mostly thanks to Arnold, whose overpowering Austrian accent pushes through the thinnest wisp of an attempt at a Russian one.

The film is ultimately funnier as a fish-out-of-water comedy then a buddy cop flick. At the beginning, Danko and Ridzik don’t out-right hate each other. Mostly, they challenge each other because of their differing cultural styles. Of course, in time, they learn to love each other. Probably the best moment between the two is a brief chat in a dinner about their childhoods, a quiet piece of character development. Ridzik’s devil-may-care style rubs off on the stiff Danko. Naturally, both bristle under the command of the police chief, this time played by a slumming Peter Boyle. At the end, the two are amicably discussing baseball and bidding one another a fond farewell. Walter Hill described the film as a love story between two men but “Red Heat” is less spectacularly gay then that suggests. Danko and Ridzik are no Murtaugh and Riggs, is what I’m saying. (Though the opening scene, set in a Russian sauna, features Arnold and a bunch of other men in tiny cloth thongs and nothing else. So there’s that.)

Maybe the reason “Red Heat” is not super captivating as a buddy cop flick is because the second half of the central pairing is played by Jim Belushi. That’s right, the lesser Belushi plays a bad ass, foul mouthed cop. “Red Heat” is one of those weird times Belushi, or The Belush to his friends, attempted to be an action star. Belushi’s Ridzik is introduced pondering whether or not a buxom hooker’s breasts are implants or not. He continues in a similarly vulgar direction throughout the film. Belushi swears constantly, chugging coffee, scarfing hamburgers and donuts, and generally being as abrasive as possible. As a foil to Arnold’s straight man, Jim does just okay. As an action hero, the star of “According to Jim” is just awkward.

Despite its handful of jokes, “Red Heat” is mostly an action film. Because this was 1988, the action is frequently intense and bloody. With an absurdly big hand gun, Arnold blows huge bloody holes in bad guys. This particular fate befalls the criminal goon disguise as a female nurse, his gory body flying backwards through a glass door. The opening chase through the streets of Moscow gets things off to an exciting start. A shoot-out in a sleazy apartment between Danko and a handful of black gang members is mildly diverting. The film’s climax is a bus chase, which escalates into a game of chicken. This is, at least, something we haven’t seen before. When one bus ends up on train tracks, that’s a good moment too. None of the action is super memorable but it’s all fairly violent and intense, which counts for something.

The Belush isn’t even the biggest problem with “Red Heat.” For such a simple story, the script is needlessly convoluted, taking a lot of unnecessary twists and turns. A lot of time is spent chasing a key, which doesn’t add much. The whole business of the bad guy teaming up with a black Chicago gang doesn’t amount to much. The scene in the prison that sets this up is especially unnecessary. (It’s also in questionable taste, considering all the good guys are varying shades of white.) The film also takes way longer then it should to get rolling. It’s a solid half-hour before the two cops are working together. It’s at least another ten minutes before the plot proper begins moving. A smoother, more direct script probably wouldn’t have made the movie more memorable but it would have made it an easier watch.

“Red Heat” does have the novelty of featuring a rare, heroic Soviet. That’s sort of cool. Ed O’Ross is also properly scummy as the main villain. A team-up between Arnold and Walter Hill probably should have been awesome but “Red Heat” ends up being fairly forgettable. The changing climate of action cinema is probably better illustrated in Arnold’s other big hit of 1988: “Twins,” the first of several films he would make contrasting his brawny appearance with goofy comedy. That movie made a lot more money then “Red Heat,” which should give you an idea of how the latter is just barely above mediocre. [6/10]

[THE SIGNS OF SCHWARZENEGGER: 3 outta 5]
[] Performs Ridiculous Feat(s) of Strength
[] Says, “I’ll be back.”
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Unnecessarily Violent Opponent Dispatch
[X] Wields A Big Gun or Sword With One Arm




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