Red Heat (1988, Walter Hill)

Walter Hill really likes to make movies about racist white cops (oxymoron, sorry, racist even for a movie) partnering with unlikely people and having big action sequences involving buses, huh?

The racist white cop in this case is Jim Belushi, who’s never overtly racist (just overtly transphobic in a homophobic way—it’s the eighties after all), but has a lot of dog whistles when referring to the Black street gang villains—the Cleanheads. They sometimes wear berets to remind you of the Black Panthers, those radical militants who wanted to feed unfed people, and they all shave their heads out of fealty to leader Brent Jennings. Jennings isn’t exactly good, but he’s a lot better than most of the performances in Red Heat and somehow his stereotype Black prison gang leader manages to come off less stereotypical than Laurence Fishburne’s police lieutenant, who is a by-the-books tight-ass who makes Belushi’s life miserable.

For being competent while Black, apparently.

Lot to unpack in Red Heat, if it weren’t so boring.

It’s not just the American side of it, there’s also how it’s 1988 and the Soviets are okay enough for Arnold to play one–Red Heat is very much of the era where Arnold didn’t need a last name—and instead it’s the Georgians who are the scumbags.

Ed O’Ross is a Georgian drug dealer who kills Arnold’s partner in Moscow and runs off to the United States. He starts doing business with Jennings’s gang (though not Jennings, who’s running it from Joliet—sadly no Blues Brothers homage, which would probably improve Heat) and eventually gets busted for something so Arnold flies over from Moscow to bring him back.

Police captain Peter Boyle—nothing like late eighties slumming in action pictures is there—assigns Richard Bright and Belushi to babysit Schwarzenegger while he collects O’Ross, but then, of course, everything goes to hell and O’Ross gets ahold of Belushi’s gun and Eddie Murphy’s got to… wait, wrong movie.

But this one ends with a bus chase too.

Only it’s rarely, barely funny, with everything between Schwarzenegger and Belushi falling flat. There are less than five okay jokes in the movie, maybe like one actual laugh and then three or four “not terrible considering.” The considering includes the acting, the script, and the direction.

Really bad music from James Horner, who seemingly shrugs off the assignment, and middling production values in general. Matthew F. Leonetti’s photography isn’t bad exactly, but it’s one of the worst shot Chicago movies ever? I mean. Just out of sheer, green lightning ineptness.

It’s also surprising it took three screenwriters—director Hill, Harry Kleiner, and Troy Kennedy-Martin—to create such hack work. John Vallone’s production design isn’t bad, but Dan Moore’s costumes are terrible. There’s a whole Belushi calling Arnold “Gumby” because of his suit and haircut thing and it’s both desperate and miserable.

Sort of like watching Red Heat.

Unless you want to be amazed at Hill’s boring composition for over an hour and forty minutes. It’s a “good for insomniacs” picture, though most of the cast gets some sympathy for being in such a lousy movie. And Richard Bright, Gina Gershon, and Pruitt Taylor Vince are at least trying.

It’s not their fault Hill and his cowriters but especially Hill are inept hacks on this one.

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