Thursday 30 June 2016

Movie Review: Red Heat (1988)

A prototypical buddy cop action movie, Red Heat is all about flying bullets, macho men and attempts at witty one-liners. Some of it works, but most of it doesn't.

In Moscow, Captain Ivan Danko (Arnold Schwarzenegger) tracks down lethal drug trafficker Viktor Rostavili (Ed O'Ross). The criminal escapes and lands in Chicago, where he establishes contact with local thugs and arranges for a major new drug deal. When Viktor is picked up for a minor traffic infraction by Detective Art Ridzik (Jim Belushi), Danko arrives from Moscow to escort the prisoner back to the Soviet Union. Nothing goes as planned, Viktor is soon loose and carnage is unleashed on the streets of Chicago.

Directed and co-written by Walter Hill, who helped invent the buddy cop movie in 48 Hrs., Red Heat is a generic example of the genre and offers an episodic, incomprehensible and generally irrelevant plot that serves no purpose other than moving the action from one set-piece to the next. A good portion of the film has characters speaking in Russian with no subtitles, and once the setting moves to Chicago, Hill's sole preoccupation is to create the opportunity for Danko's next one-liner and Ridzik's next snarky retort as they engage in firefights and running battles with the bad guys using progressively bigger machinery.

The action is of course over the top, the mayhem on a grand scale, as the pursuit of one man converts Chicago into a war zone. In his brief time in Chicago Viktor manages to both get married to dance instructor Catherine Manzetti (Gina Gershon) and antagonize a gang of heavily-armed black thugs, ensuring that Danko and Ridzik have plenty of reasons to pursue suspects and dodge high-calibre bullets. Somewhere in there Hill throws in a MacGuffin in the form of a locker key where a bag full of something important is locked up, triggering plenty of chases, threats and hissing matches.

Schwarzenegger as a straitlaced Soviet cop is more subdued and emotionless than usual, maintaining a fixed expression and monotone delivery of monosyllabic words. Belushi fills the gap with an over-animated take on cynical Chicago cop Ridzik. Peter Boyle and Laurence Fishburne are generally wasted in generic roles as Ridzik's superiors.

Ridzik: Well, tell me something, Captain. If you've got such a fucking paradise over there, how come you're up the same creek as we are with heroin and cocaine?
Danko: Chinese find way. Right after revolution, they round up all drug dealers, all drug addicts, take them to public square, and shoot them in back of head.
Ridzik: Ah, it'd never work here. Fucking politicians wouldn't go for it.
Danko: Shoot them first.

At no time does the film pause to take a breath, explain itself, or attempt to find any character depth, at least not in English. Red Heat tosses in a few good zingers and boasts reasonable production values, but while the temperature is high, there is nothing of substance in the oven.

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