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Red Heat


‘…Red Heat is a slick, effective cop movie, revealing that Schwarzenegger could dominate the screen given a role tailored to his unique style….’

Times change. When I was a teenager, there was some obscene graffitti viewed daily on my university desk about Arnold Schwarzenegger, suggesting that the bodybuilder-turned-actor was ‘the awakening dream of the Nazis’.That’s proved to be somewhat wide of the mark; whatever you think of his politics, Schwarzenegger has proved himself to be something of a voice of reason when it comes to communicating with non-political masses. His video comments on January 6th were remarkably personal and yet carefully measured, and his latest speech directly to the Russian people on the war in the Ukraine shows he hasn’t lost the common touch.

Arnie 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 2022, it’s a pretty slick retread of Hill’s 48 Hours with a few prescient 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/cop 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 Moscow with all scores settled.

Red Heat was made before Schwarzenegger truly discovered his surprising 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 such a poor advert for them. Remaking 48 Hours along political and cultural divides 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, revealing that Schwarzenegger could dominate the screen given a role tailored to his unique style.

This latest Blu-Ray, DVD and 4KUHD release 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 couldn’t have found more enthusiastic contributors to discuss the film, because Red Heat is a smarter movie than it gets credit for here. As it turns out, Arnie wasn’t the manipulable straw-man in the US media that the Kremlin needed to bring America to the brink; that came in a different guise. Written off by many in the 80’s as a bubble-brained strongman, Arnie’s providing exactly the kind of straight-talking, no-nonsense leadership the world needs right now.


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            • My alien masters have never tried to influence how I vote; it’s a myth that it ever happens.

              • Oh, I don’t think Cruise votes. He influences others though. I’m almost done my expose about how he was personally responsible for the great pudding fiasco of ’06.

                If humanity ever looks back, I think that one incident will make future generations shudder in horror at how close we came to total annihilation.

                If it wasn’t for Ahnold, killing off all the pudding predators, we’d have been sunk!

                  • Oh, your masters didn’t tell you about that?
                    Can’t say I’m surprised. Alien Masters the world over really ended up with egg on their face due to the pudding fiasco.
                    Set back their plans for world domination at least 500hundred years…

                    • I’ve said too much already. I wouldn’t want to disturb your peaceful world. Just forget I even mentioned.
                      But if a mustachioed trenchcoated mountain man accosts you, the code word is “Triple Fudge” and the counter-sign is “Caramel”. You never heard that from me though….

                    • Oh. My. Goodness. Have you learned nothing?
                      It was Understanding that led to the Pudding Fiasco in the first place. Oh, we’re doomed…..

  1. Walter Hill never went wrong even when he had to deal with an odd assortment of actors. Color titles never seem to provide any info on the story – Blue Thunder vs Blue Lagoon. But Arnie usually delivers enough bang for the buck.

  2. I did see Red Heat in theaters, but for the life me I do not recall one frame of it. It was one of those Arnie films where you left the theater . . . and shrugged and tossed your empties and took a piss and went to eat chicken wings, after. No message, purpose or plot. There was nothing to discuss, afterwards, as it was a Jim Belushi movie, after all, in an AWFUL 48 Hours rip-off. But at a $3.50 matinee in those days, you’d do two or three movies a week — with most being misses, not hits.

    I do remember Raw Deal, better, because it played on UHF U.S. TV, often. Not so much for Red Heat, which, as you, I recall as the better film. Red Heat was pretty much buried as far as replays were concerned, probably because of the cliched, offensive Americanized-Russian of it all.

    Anyway, on behalf of all Americans from sea to shining sea: I apologize for the unleashing of Jim Belushi on the world. And that awful flick — Real Men — he did with John Ritter, for which we also apologize. Then they stuck us with big Jim in his own series. And we are still baffled how that lasted 8 seasons!

    • While I appreciate your apology for the historical atrocity of le cinema du Jim Belushi, it’s too little and too late. Have you forgotten how we suffered worldwide watching JB’s efforts to be a leading man? Words are not enough, we need financial reperations and we need them yesterday.

      I paid 50p to see Red Heat, and I felt I had my money’s worth. While this isn’t from Arnie’s top drawer, it’s a decent enough policier, and as I noted, has some vestiges of a smarter poltical film buried in there among the 80’s cheese. I actually rate this higher than Raw Deal…

      • Hahaha. I know. Way too late of a warning. Ugh. Traces of Red. Another one of his “film noir” atrocities to cinema — I think that was in the wake of Basic Instinct. “Neo Noir” garbage. Jim Belushi doesn’t not equal “erotic thriller” in the slightest.

        But you are right: even at their worst, Arnie’s films gave you your money’s worth, even if you forgot what you seen once you leave the theater.

  3. Was this the first appearance of Clifford the Big Red Dog? Did it inspire Red Dawn? Red Sparrow? Was Arnold Turning Red? Was it a prequel to The Hunt for Red October? Did you notice any homages to Antonioni’s work in Red Desert? To Argento’s Deep Red? Did Bruce Willis pattern his performance in RED after Arnold’s in this movie? Was Kieslowski’s Red originally going to be titled Red Dawn before someone told him that it had already been done? Did Arnold’s salary push the production over The Thin Red Line? Did it give him the nickname The Big Red One? Was he wearing The Red Shoes? Was he still bitter over Red Sonja when he made this? Was it a coincidence that The Woman in Red only came out a few years later? Or that Red Scorpion came out the same year??

    • Sigh. No, this is a prequel to the Sandra Bullock Melissa McCarthy cop movie The Heat, featuring the hit song The Heat is On. Orinigally, it was a sequel to In The Heat of the Night, but Michael Mann then remade it as Heat. Any questions? Too hot for you?

  4. “Seen from 2019”? Oh dear, this isn’t one of those recycled reviews is it?

    Don’t think I’ve seen this since it came out. Better than Raw Deal is all I remember.

    “pesonal,” and I think the adjectival form of manipulate is manipulable.

    • Revamped and renosed with up to the minute political commentary!

      Thanks for the typos.

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