Lionsgate // 1988 // 106 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // October 28th, 2004
With this much friction, there's got to be heat...RED HEAT.
When Walter Hill went to make Red Heat, he went right to the cop/buddy action/comedy template:
There is a/an __________ cop named _________ who is very good at his job. When his ___________ is killed by a/an ________ dealer/robber and his minions, he is teamed up with a funny, incompetent cop named ___________,who is assigned to the case because the stressed-out police captain wants him off of his back. During a shootout at a/an _____________ and a/an ________ chase through _____________, the funny cop's ___________ is killed by the villain. After that, despite their dislike for each other, they seek out the villain and his minions after getting some flimsy lead involving a stripper/prostitute, which eventually leads to a long action sequence at a/an ___________. In this final sequence, the serious cop needs the help of the funny cop, who pulls things together in the nick of time and helps kill the bad guy. At the end, they realize they can set aside their differences and be friends.
There is a Russian cop named Ivan Denko (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Predator, The Terminator) who is very good at his job. When his partner is killed by a drug dealer named Viktor (Ed O'Ross, Six Feet Under) and his minions, he is teamed up with a funny, incompetent cop named Art Ridzik (James Belushi, Curly Sue), who is assigned to the case because the stressed-out police captain wants him off of his back. During a shootout at a mall and a car chase through Chicago, the funny cop's partner is killed by the villain. After that, despite their dislike of each other, they seek out the villain and his minions after getting some flimsy lead involving a stripper/prostitute in some way, which eventually leads to a long action sequence at a bus station. In this final sequence, the serious cop needs the help of the funny cop, who pulls things together in the nick of time and helps kill the bad guy. At the end, they realize they can set aside their differences and be friends.
Apparently, Red Heat had the honor of being the first American film to be shot in Red Square (as it turns out, they only shot there for one day, without permission). I find it ironic that the first such film would be such a paint-by-numbers American action movie. Everything about the film is so painfully typical that I frequently found myself very bored, even during the action scenes. I think it's actually in the wrong genre -- it would have worked a lot better as a gritty fish-out-of-water cop movie with Denko alone in America, rather than as a light action buddy comedy.
The performances are just as typical. Arnie does his usual thing, and although he seems to be attempting to sound a bit different in some scenes, you can bet he was the only German-sounding police officer in Communist Russia. Ivan Denko has even less charisma than the terminator, which doesn't really work in a buddy film. Since Schwarzenegger is generally easier to watch than this, I can only guess that this was a directorial choice. Jim Belushi fares even worse. Ridzik doesn't really have a character at all. His entire role consists of following the other characters around, spouting bad one-liners and occasionally firing his gun. With two heroes this bland, it's no surprise that the film simply doesn't work. Ed O'Ross is slightly better as Viktor, but he doesn't have a whole lot of screen time. The supporting characters fade quickly from memory, with generic performances from Laurence Fishburne as a cop and Gina Gershon as a fitness instructor dragged into the action.
There are a number of action scenes to distract us from these performances. The chases and shootouts early in the film are the best, with a gritty, kinetic feel that we rarely see anymore. These scenes are generally well-shot; skillfully edited so that it's clear what's going on, without losing the film's general feeling of speed and roughness. Unfortunately, the final chase towards the end of the film is a huge disappointment. Since the two buses look identical, it's almost impossible to get a clear sense of what's going on. The end is also quite anticlimactic, although I won't discuss what happens in detail here (though you can probably guess).
At first, it seems like Hill was trying to do something slightly different with his script. The Russian government was starting to collapse at the time of this film, and many Western influences were starting to come through. While this was potentially a good thing for the country, it meant some negatives were imported as well -- the drug industry being a big example. Ivan isn't sent after Viktor because he's a particularly dangerous criminal, but rather because he is bringing drugs into Russia in large quantities for the first time. The creation of a sympathetic Russian character and the inclusion of a highly politicized speech by a black druglord reveal some early interest in political correctness, but all of these ideas quickly fall away when the bullets start flying.
Although Red Heat fails to live up to expectations, it's been given a fairly impressive treatment in this special edition. The video transfer is freshly remastered, and the results are satisfactory. There is quite a bit of grain, but it's generally not too distracting. It seems as though the darker scenes were grainy in the first place, and the image is as cleaned up as is possible without damaging the original look of the film. The sound track is solid as well, with a nice 5.1 track that doesn't sound like it was created from a stereo source. It has plenty of natural sounding action from the rears, while still maintaining a strong front sound stage and clear dialogue. The original 2.0 track has also been included for purists.
While I don't think the film really warrants a lot of extras, this special edition is loaded up with four featurettes. The first is a spot about the Carolco production studio, and the opportunity they had to shoot in Communist Russia. It looks more at the development of the project rather than the shooting, which sort of sets it apart from generic studio featurettes. The second is a featurette on Benny Dobbins, the stunt coordinator, who passed away on the set. A lot of people felt a lot of fondness for Dobbins, but the featurette doesn't -- it has more footage from the film than footage of him. The third focuses on Ed O'Ross, who isn't Russian, but who did put in a fantastic performance. The final one is the original television featurette, and it's exactly what we have come to expect from decades of lousy studio fluff. It has some highlights from the film, interspersed with some shallow behind-the-scenes footage and even more shallow interviews. Aside from that, there is a small collection of trailers and television spots.
If you're a fan of Red Heat or a Schwarzenegger completist, this disc will be a welcome addition to your collection. For the rest of us, though, it's a pretty forgettable stop on the long walk down memory lane.
Red Heat is guilty, but there are worse crimes than being a dull Hollywood thriller.
Review content copyright © 2004 Joel Pearce; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* East Meets West Featurette
* Stunt Featurette
* Ed O'Ross Interview
* Making of Television Special