Thursday, August 28, 2014

Heat (1987)

Undoubtedly one of Burt Reynolds’ worst experiences as a filmmaker, HEAT had to be finished by Jerry Jameson (AIRPORT ‘77) after director Dick Richards (FAREWELL, MY LOVELY) got into a fistfight with Reynolds on the set (Richards later returned, got hurt, and left the production again). Richards wasn’t even the original director--Robert Altman was. As many as three other directors may have worked on the picture too.

Based on a novel by Academy Award winner William Goldman (ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN), who also wrote the screenplay, HEAT should have been so much better than it is, but it’s tough to make a good movie when the star and director are punching each other in the face. It was also the beginning of Burt’s downhill slide as a leading man, and so HEAT feels small like a B-movie. It also feels shapeless and aimless, as though many scenes that would have held the story together were never shot. Which wouldn’t surprise me, considering the backstage woes.

Goldman creates parallel stories for Nick Escalante, the Las Vegas “chaperone” played by Reynolds and nicknamed “Mex.” Neither story is for high stakes. If you believe that a film should be about the biggest day in its protagonist’s life, Mex must be a dull boy. One story has him getting payback on a cocky young son (Neill Barry) of a Mafioso who roughed up his young hooker friend Holly (Karen Young). The same night he ends up in a warehouse throwing down with a bunch of Barry’s boys, Mex also teaches rich wimp Cyrus (Peter MacNicol) how to be a tough guy.

Diana Scarwid pops in for a nothing role as a blackjack dealer, and Howard Hesseman is very good as a shyster attorney who shares an office with Mex. Both add considerably to the film, which doesn’t appear to know how to use them. Reynolds is just as terrific as he ever was, aging gracefully into a role that calls for a worldweariness that he hadn’t had to play up to that point in his career. Burt was still a movie star. It wasn’t his fault the pictures got small.


Grant said...

This would be about the same time that Burt Reynolds drifted toward TV again. In fact, it would be the same time he ended up on the SF-oriented sitcom OUT OF THIS WORLD (which is really a lot wittier than quick glimpses of it might tell you).
The odd thing is, he played a disembodied voice on a machine, and was uncredited all through the series (which was on for several seasons). So even though there's nothing wrong with the show, that might say something about his career in 1986-87.

Erik Nelson said...

I recently saw HEAT on the big screen as the opening film in a recent Cinemapocalypse festival at the Ritz Alamo Drafthouse. The programmer who picked the film called it a "Dad film" - Reynolds transitioned from popular star to appearing in movies dads like to watch in their reclining chairs in their dens. I remember thinking "wtf" during the opening sequence and the tone of the film would change so fast I got nosebleed. Burt's pimp jacket got the biggest laugh, but I loved it when he stated his qualifications as an "escort": "Well, I've been knocked down, blown up, lied to, shit on, shot at, I'm not a virgin except in my heart, nothing much surprises me anymore except what people do to each other. I'm a licensed pilot, I lectured on economics at Yale, and I can memorize the front page of the New York Times in five minutes, and repeat it back to you in five weeks. I was National Golden Gloves Champion three years in a row and I'm fluent in four languages. And... I lie a lot!"

I don't know what is harder to believe: Robert Altman was originally lined up to direct, the screenplay is by William Goldman, or it has been remade as WILD CARD with Jason Statham.

Marty McKee said...

Erik Nelson is reading my blog! Ye flippin' gods!