May 29, 2018
Red Heat (1988) (part 1 of 4)
The Cast of Characters:
Ivan Danko (Arnold Schwarzenegger). A deeply serious police officer who dispenses bullets much more freely than his words. Has a crew cut that falls somewhere between that of Ivan Drago and Vanilla Ice.
Arthur Ridzic (Jim Belushi). The prototypical good cop who’s always in trouble. He dispenses bullets as freely as his one-liners. He dresses poorly, runs poorly, but gets the damned job done. Just don’t grade him on neatness.
Viktor Rosta (Ed O’Ross). The surly heavy. He recognizes the changes coming to Russia and wants to cash in by introducing Western-style drugs to the public, even though importing Western-style razors might have been more profitable.
Cat Manzetti (Gina Gershon). Her real name is Catherine, but she goes by “Cat” to follow the four-syllable naming convention of the other characters. As the lone female in the cast, she wears a leotard and perspires, but otherwise doesn’t do much. She should have changed her hair color using Clairol dye #1829, “Red Herring”.
[Webmaster’s note: Special thanks go out to Joshua Hutcheson for helping to proofread and edit this recap!]
Among the biggest accomplishments of the 1980s was the restructuring of the Soviet Empire in the years of Reagan and Gorbachev. The Cold War came to a close, the Berlin Wall came down, and ALF dominated the Nielsen ratings. It was a glorious era which today’s generation cannot truly fathom, given their world of international conflict and mostly alien-free sitcoms.
Back then, Carolco Productions and Columbia Pictures felt they could distill the magic of the political climate and the dawning of a new world order into a formula cop movie. It might sound like an asinine idea, but you have to understand the happy delirium we all felt at the time. It just seemed so possible!
As serious as this movie may have been intended, the outcome actually looked like a comical fiasco in short order.
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When the movie starts, we get a dim and steamy setting, with harsh sound effects and a grave soundtrack. Really serious sounding stuff going on here… in a Russian health spa. Men are working out (are they called “free” weights in a totalitarian régime?) and they’re all outfitted with small nail-pouches to cover their vitals. The women, meanwhile, have to frolic in a waterfall completely nude. I am grateful twice over right now.
The atmospherics don’t really make sense, but the serious look on a blond guy’s face means something arch must be playing out at this Moscow fitness club.
Next, we see our star Arnold Schwarzenegger toddling around in his smock, granting us another view of his naked hinder, like he did when he arrived back through the time portal. The camera slowly climbs over his naked body, and everyone in the spa stops and looks at him seriously as he walks in.
Soon, he silently squares off with a Samoan-looking gent. A pair of tongs pulls a stone from a fire, and the Samoan announces that Arnold does not possess the hands of a steel worker.
Samoan: If you work with steel, you should be used to the heat.
No one spoke before this moment, so this guy calling out Arnold as a blue collar poser is a complete mystery. The stone is placed in Arnold’s palm and it starts smoking, after which I challenge this logic. Smelting employees work with heavy tools and large asbestos gauntlet gloves—nobody in a foundry is handling molten rebar like a macho jackass! I say “Nyet!” to your workman’s comp claim!
Arnold doesn’t flinch as he closes his hand on the rock, but he does punch the guy, sending his corpulent Ron Jeremy-looking body through a window and out into a snow bank.
During the resulting melee, Arnold leaps through the window along with another guy, and a round of bare-assed bare-knuckle fighting ensues. And this is all happening so that Arnie, as Officer Danko, can scream for them to tell him the location of a guy named Viktor Rosta. These are the first words he utters. Not to sound like a kindergarten cop teacher, but maybe if he had simply asked first, we would have avoided all the scuffling, and we wouldn’t be subjected to various shots of mostly naked large men.
Cut to the title sequence. And here, you don’t even need to pay close attention, because the filmmakers drive home the point of where we’re located. The shots of Lenin’s statue and Red Square were a tip-off, but I also picked up on the Kremlin looming in the distance. In case some of you are still playing catch-up, we get the traditional Soviet-style chorus on the soundtrack, and the bland titles have the letters “R” and “N” backwards, too.
There are more tourist landmarks, interspersed with shots of soldiers marching. At this point in the credits, we learn this movie was written and directed by Walter Hill. Walt has made some standout films, from The Warriors to his buddy-cop classic 48 Hours, but this falls comically short of both of those movies in just about every way.
And now you certainly get the feel of the genesis of this project. I bet Mr. Hill had planned on working in the political climate of the time, with the pairing of an American cop and a Russian cop serving as a metaphor for perestroika and the burgeoning alliance between the Cold War superpowers. Instead, you sense the studio suits told him, “Just do that thing you did with Murphy and Nolte, make it funny and gritty, and toss in a few shots of naked women. Cinematic gold, Walter!”
Next up, various Russian police officers surround a building, while Danko is in a car with his partner, the blond guy from the spa. The partner informs Danko that the other officers have been mocking him.
Blondie: You have a new nickname. They used to call you “Iron Jaw”, but after the fight in the snow they call you “Round-Headed”.
Not catchy at all, but this must be some kind of dig on his manhood. I’m guessing this based on the context clues in the guy’s follow-up.
Blondie: [laughing] Actually, I’m circumcised myself.
No idea what that’s supposed to mean, but I gather Russian cops who fight in the snow come to expect earning very obscure nicknames.
They get out, and Danko enters a café where a burly guy is at a piano, sounding like an Eastern Bloc version of Louis Armstrong. Once again, Arnold encounters a room full of people who stop what they’re doing to stare at him, though this time he’s decked out in police garb and a huge furry hat, so at least they aren’t marveling at his barely concealed Lethal Weapon.
Danko inspects the surroundings while walking silently, noting a pig’s head on display.
He finally spots a table and approaches a group that includes 1980s go-to bad guy Ed O’Ross as Rosta. Each person at the table stands up and expresses outrage that as Georgians, they’re being persecuted like this.
Then one guy makes the mistake of standing up and demanding Danko prove he has evidence. This is a foolish declaration, because Danko has not said one word. In fact, he’s so taciturn in this film he makes the Terminator seem like a livestock auctioneer.
It’s also foolish because Danko then promptly tosses the guy across the room. Then he steps over and calmly twists the guy’s leg clean off. No, it is not like that—it’s a prosthetic. It’s also where the drugs were stashed. You see, in Europe, when they say their drugs are “stepped on”, they don’t mean it’s been cut with another product.
A gunfight erupts, and even though they fire point-blank at Danko, he’s unscathed. But outside, numerous other Russian cops go down. As Rosta is fleeing, his brother cleverly draws his gun while surrounded, so he can die wearing that horrible suit.
Danko’s partner captures Rosta, but Rosta has a hidden gun and the partner ends up shot. Guess they’ll start calling him “Dead-Headed” around the station now.
Cut to the funeral, where Drago—I mean Danko—is informed that Rosta and two others have fled the country. So it seems the Communists keep close tabs on their citizens and defecting athletes, but wanted criminals can travel quite easily.