Red Heat (1988)
AKA Red Bull
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Belushi, Peter Boyle, Ed O’Ross, Laurence Fishburne, Gina Gershon, Richard Bright, J.W. Smith, Brent Jennings, Gretchen Palmer, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Mike Hagerty, Brion James
Directed by Walter Hill
Rising to fame during the 1980s, it was only a matter of time before Arnold Schwarzenegger was cast in a buddy cop film. Studios were green-lighting buddy cop movies in the ’80s like I wolf down tortilla chips (which is to say, nearly constantly and compulsively). Red Heat follows the classic buddy cop structure as well, taking two cops with very different styles and smashing them together against their will. One of the cops is usually out of their element, too, leading to laughs and/or misunderstandings that endear the characters to us. But while Red Heat hits all the buddy cop hallmarks, it’s still just an OK buddy cop movie. Yes, even with Arnold in the lead role.
As I see it, the main problem is Jim Belushi. He plays Chicago cop Art Ridzik, a reckless, insufferable asshole — I don’t think there are many actors better at this than Belushi — but he’s not a likable, insufferable asshole; he’s just insufferable. He doesn’t mix well with Ivan Danko, Arnold’s character, either. It’s like a romantic movie without the spark. You never get the feeling that Danko and Ridzik gives two shits about each other, so when we get to the end of the film and suddenly there’s some buddy-buddy feelings, it’s really hard to buy into.
There are a number of interesting interactions that the two characters have, though, specifically in the way that each character is seemingly representative of their country’s economic policy. The “sentimental” final scene between Danko and Ridzik is a great example. Danko decides to give Ridzik his watch, as he says that it is a Soviet custom to give a gift to a friend. Ridzik in turn gives Danko his expensive watch. But when Ridzik looks at Danko’s gift, he realizes that it’s a “cheap, $20 Soviet watch.” Distress washes over Ridzik’s face; everything in his capitalist brain is telling him to renege on the deal. Danko is offering a genuine show of friendship and camaraderie, but Ridzik is more concerned with losing money. They end up keeping each other’s watches, so I guess I can hope that Ridzik learned something in this moment.
These capitalist/communist feelings also come up earlier in the film, as the two cops visit a locksmith. While Ridzik argues with the store owner about personal problems related to money and other capitalist problems, Danko could care less. He’s focused and doing his job, a clarity to his mind apparently afforded by the fact that as a socialist he doesn’t have to burden himself with these capitalist struggles. He is provided for, and is therefore able to become more efficient. The film definitely doesn’t develop these ideas into anything solid, but I enjoyed that they were present. I’m sure in 1988 Cold War tensions didn’t allow audiences to see the benefits of Danko’s training and resolute determination, but that’s definitely what I saw tonight. I mean, can you even imagine what this film would be like if the roles were reversed? Belushi in the USSR, unable to do anything because he’s a boneheaded American unequipped to function anywhere but his home country? I don’t think his investigation would get very far.
While Arnold does a great job playing the stoic Russian, it’s not all that fun to watch him as Ivan Danko. His “Arnold-ness” is largely muted here to portray the character, so the film doesn’t quite scratch that Arnold itch for me. It definitely has some great moments, and a few good one-liners, but this feels more like Arnold with one hand tied behind his back than a fully unleashed Arnold. But there is a goddamned bus chase through the streets of Chicago, so the film is definitely worth a watch. 🙂 I am easily amused. It should be noted that it’s not so much of a chase as it is just shot after shot of buses smashing into and through various things. Again, I am easily amused.
Red Heat feels like more of a mainstream movie than any of the previous Arnold films; I guess 1988 was Arnold’s “I’m crossing over into more mainstream movies” year. His next film was Twins, and out of all his movies, it was actually that one that catapulted him into the box-office stratosphere. Red Heat is definitely not good enough to have done that job, but it is an enjoyable, middle-of-the-road, cop action film. If you like Arnold and buddy cop movies, you should to see it; everyone else can take a pass and not feel like they’re missing too much.
Next up in this chronological journey through the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger is Twins! Haven’t seen it since I was a kid, so it should be interesting! See ya then!