Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Red Heat – A Cop-Buddy Film With a Commie Twist

Written by Walter Hill, Harry Kleiner, and Troy Kennedy-Martin
Directed by Walter Hill

I don’t know whether or not it worked against the film Red Heat was released in 1988. Communism was crumbling at the time, almost a year after Ronald Reagan’s famous tear down this wall… speech. The wall itself would come down just a year later, a symbol of the end of Communism as we knew it and an end to the Cold War. It was a time fraught with change, although Walter Hill couldn’t have imagined just how much the world would change between the time he began making this film and the time it was released.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a Danko, a Russian Police Officer in the days when communism was still the rule of the land. He tracks Viktor “Rosta” Rostavili (portrayed by Ed O’Ross), the drug dealer who killed his partner, from his native land to Chicago. There, as he’s about to take Rosta back to the Soviet Union, a daring daytime assault is staged on Danko and the two Chicago police officers.

Danko now allies himself with Detective Art Ridzik (portrayed by James Belushi) whose partner was slain in that assault. Ridzik has blown more assignments and busts than he or his bosses would care to count and is one sidelong glance from being regulated to desk duty. The two men are an unorthodox pair as they team up outside of what they’ve been authorized to do to bring down Rosta.

The ongoing joke is of course the cultural differences. However, after a short time, it wears thin. Schwarzenegger is essentially the straight-man to Belushi’s comedy as he blurts out one-liners and quips that sometimes hit the mark, but are more often quite predictable. Think Schwarzenegger as Felix Unger to Belushi’s Oscar Madison. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but after a few minutes of predictable jokes, I wanted it to be over.

(To gangsters arranging a meeting between the officers and Rosta)
Belushi: A Chicago cop never relinquishes his weapon
Bad guys cock their rifles
Belushi: Here (handing over the gun)

That’s an example of the shining comic dialogue penned by Walter Hill who wrote and directed. Sometimes it brought forth a chuckle, but there were plenty of groaners in there as well. He’s also got the film so loaded with plot points such as the belligerent chief of police (portrayed by Peter Boyle) who seems to be aggravated by everything but keeps an aquarium in his office to lower his stress. The hot chick gets thrown in for a while too in the form of Gina Gershon, who’s Rosta’s American wife, but only for the purpose of getting into the country. Laurence Fishburne is also here as an officer who is totally aggravated by Ridzik’s antics.

Schwarzenegger’s stoic, accented delivery is perfect for his role as Danko. This role was actually a bit of a reach for him, as he’d mostly stayed with roles such as the original Terminator or the Conan films where he was silent and cold. Here he talks a bit more and has to interact more with the rest of the cast, but the roles are still quite similar. For the time, however, he was one of the few actors who could have convincingly pulled off the role.

Belushi seems to be trying very hard to prove he’s more here than just the brother of John, and perhaps that drags the story a bit as well. At times it feels as if he’s trying just too hard in the role; he’s trying a bit too earnestly to be funny. He needed to relax a bit more and let the character flow, but the dialogue didn’t help and the combination just makes his character into a horrible cliche.

Red Heat was one of the few films which were actually filmed in Red Square before the fall of communism. Listening to Hill discuss in the bonus material what it took to get that done is worth it and gives a new appreciation for these scenes. It’s nice to see Russia shown in a way other than we’d grown used to with the one-sided depictions during the height of the Cold War. The opening scenes in Russia – as well as the scenes of what was supposed to be Russia but actually filmed in Budapest – save the film from being a complete disappointment, especially in the historical context.

The soundtrack is also good, filled with loud marches and the like which sets the tone well. James Horner did a terrific job setting the tone, especially when the scenes are set in Russia. It’s a shame that the story itself isn’t that great because the potential is there for the film to be so much more. I think what hurt it originally was the disintegration of Communism as this helped this film descend into oblivion and out of our minds after its theatrical run.

There are some decent action sequences, gunfights, and explosions, but overall what’s good about the film balances against what’s bad so that it’s an average and unfortunately very forgettable film.

Bonus Material:

– East Meets West: Red Heat and the Kings of Carolco
– Bennie Dobbins: A Stuntman For All Seasons – tribute to the stuntman who dies during the filming
– I’m Not A Russian But I Play One On TV – interview with Ed O’Ross
– “Making Of” TV Special
– TV Spots
– Trailers

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