Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Red Heat (1988)

Yes, Virginia, there once was a very small window of time in which husky comic actor Jim Belushi (THE PRINCIPAL) was not only a major Hollywood action star, but one who received equal billing with superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger (COMMANDO). Both actors are cast according to type in RED HEAT, a raucous action comedy directed by the man who helped create the genre with 48 HRS.: Walter Hill. It opened at #1 (the same weekend BULL DURHAM and THE GREAT OUTDOORS opened), but was not one of Arnold’s biggest hits. But, hell, neither was THE TERMINATOR.

Schwarzenegger is Ivan Danko, a tight-lipped Moscow cop with a dangerous reputation for kicking bad guy ass, even naked in the snow. Belushi is Art Ritzik, a laidback slob and Chicago cop whose clowning rubs the ultra-serious Danko the wrong way. Their common goal is Viktor Rosta (ACTION JACKSON’s Ed O’Ross), a druglord who escapes Danko’s clutches in Russia, but ends up in Chicago. The two cops tear hell out of half the Windy City in pursuit of Rosta...if they don’t kill each other first!

Action fans eager for a chase or shootout every ten minutes and plenty of smart talk will find RED HEAT worthwhile. The story is more formulaic than might be expected from credited writers Hill, Harry Kleiner (BULLITT), and Troy Kennedy Martin (EDGE OF DARKNESS), but in the steady hands of action craftsman Hill, the film is fast, funny, foul-mouthed, and full of interesting character actors. Peter Boyle (TAXI DRIVER) has the thankless role of Belushi’s boss. Laurence Fishburne (THE MATRIX) shows up as an uptight cop, Gina Gershon (BOUND) is a dancer, Pruitt Taylor Vince (BEAUTIFUL GIRLS) is a hotel clerk, Brion James (BLADE RUNNER) is an informant, and Peter Jason (ARACHNOPHOBIA) is a television host.

In the grand tradition of Sean Connery playing an Irish cop in THE UNTOUCHABLES and a Spaniard in HIGHLANDER, Schwarzenegger makes no effort at a Russian accent. RED HEAT did, however, shoot one day in Moscow’s Red Square — the first American production to do so — so there’s novelty value in seeing Arnold there. If you watch a lot of action movies, you may recognize the bus chase, which the studio sold as stock footage to independent movies that couldn’t afford to shoot their own.

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