Arnold Schwarzenegger may not regard Red Heat as one of his smash successes; there’s no sequels or lasting impact on popular culture. But Walter Hill’s film was substantially ahead of the curve when it comes to portrayal of the Soviet Union on-screen, arriving during the Glasnost period and just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. With half a dozen writers toiling on the script, it’s clear that Red Heat wasn’t the easiest of productions, but seen from 2019, it’s a pretty slick retreat of Hill’s 48 Hours with a few political allusions.
Moscow cop Ivan Danko (Schwarzenegger) is on the tail of the Georgian drug-dealer who killed his partner; the trail takes him to Chicago where he teams up with lovable misogynist slob Art Ridzik (James Belushi). The duo have cops at their heels in the form of Peter Boyle and Laurence Fishburne, while Gina Gershon makes an early impression as the dealer’s moll. Any cultural complications are swiftly ironed out in a climactic bus chase that seems to demolish half of Chicago, but eventually sends Danko back to the Moscow with all scores settled.
Red Heat was made before Schwarzenegger discovered his gift for comedy, but he’s pretty good here as a straight-man with real gravity, never deviating from his quest and with no time for distractions; ‘Capitalism’ is his one word response when disdainfully viewing a tv set blaring pornography. There are shards of political commentary in the way that Danko is seduced by elements of American culture, despite his partner being a poor advert for them. Remaking 48 Hours along political and cultural divide isn’t a bad idea at all, and there’s some vestiges of the laconic humour of Troy Kennedy Martin (Edge of Darkness) in the dialogue.
The salty badinage between the cops makes this something of a guilty pleasure for men; the unreconstructed sexism seems late in the day even for 1988. But the action is shot with Hill’s customary drive and impact, from the nude bath-house brawl to the final night-time city chase, complete with the chicken-game punch-line. Red Heat is a slick, effective cop movie for guys, one that looks better now on blu-ray than it did at the time, and which reveals that Schwarzenegger could actually act given the right role.
This new Blu-Ray, DVD and 4KUHD release comes out in the UK on October 21st 2019 and features a slew of extras, with docs on the star, the political context, production arm Carolco and stuntman Benny Deakins, who died during the production and who the film is dedicated to. It’s a shame they could have found more enthusiastic contributors to discuss the film, because Red Heat is a smarter movie than it gets credit for here.