Summer of Schwarzenegger - "Red Heat" (1988)


Remember Jim Belushi? No? It's okay, the rest of the world doesn't either.

The younger brother of the late, great James Belushi, Jim Belushi was (is?) a comedian (?) who's most known for a hit sitcom, According to Jim... and some other allegedly funny movies, I guess. There's one where he's a hardened cop who gets teamed up with a dog (actually, there's a trilogy of those.) There's another where he's a hardened CIA agent who gets teamed up with John Ritter, which is arguably just as wacky. And then there's one where he's a hardened disk jockey getting caught up in crazy antics in the middle of the Salvadoran Civil War and... oh, wait. That's not a comedy. Nothing funny there. My bad. Moving on.

In virtually all of his movies, with the exception of that last one, Belushi plays some variation of the same character. He's usually sort of an oaf who happens to have an exciting job. He usually gets thrust in the middle of action, makes some "witty" banter about it, then comes out on top. He's usually pitched to the audience as a likable character, even though, in reality, we'd probably hate his guts if we had to be friends with him. All of those things show up in Red Heat, except instead of playing foil to another comedian, a dog, or a little girl, he's teamed up with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Who plays a Russian cop. 

There's a plot here, sort of. Something about drugs and a murdered partner. But it sucks, and it just serves as a vehicle for what are supposed to be wacky antics between the mismatched duo. Emphasis on "supposed to." See, this movie? It's not funny. It tries to be. It really does. Jim Belushi makes a lot of jokes about Russia, Arnold acts like a stoic asshole, a woman gets murdered and dumped in a river... wait, what?


That last bit hits home the biggest problem with Red Heat. It doesn't know what it wants to be. A comedy? If so, it fails, because it's barely humorous. All of the one-liners are predictable, and the movie tries to play Belushi being a sexist prick off as comedy. Which it isn't. It's just kind of dated and gross. The only truly funny bit is when Arnold rips off a guy's prosthetic leg, dumps cocaine out of it, then yells, "CO-KAYN-UM," which I assume is Russian for Columbian bam-bam. But that's not even pitched to us as a bit of comedy. 

Or maybe the movie wants to be a serious crime drama with social critique. If that's the case, it especially fails, as its attempts at social commentary are hamfisted at best, blatantly racist and xenophobic at worst. Don't believe me? There's a character who leads a gang of black skinheads in a prison, whose lifelong goal is to get "every white man in the world and his sister" hooked on drugs. Uh. Nice. Still don't believe me? This film has a cult following in Russia due to its absurd depictions of the country and its customs. Let me clarify: people of a specific nationality watch this movie to laugh at how horribly it portrays that nationality. Enough said. 

Is there anything good about this movie, then? Uh. Well, some of the lines are kind of chuckle-inducing. Not outrageously funny, mind you, but inoffensive enough, I guess. The last action sequence is pretty neat too, but also lame considering this came out in the same year as Die Hard and They Live, so actually, I take that back. It sucks. Which means there's only one plus, and that's those marginally funny lines that happen occasionally. Whee.

Notice how I've barely talked about Arnold, by the way. There's a reason for that: he barely talks in this movie. He gets top billing, but all of his responses are flat, dull reactions to Belushi's one-liners. Which is a damn shame, because as we'll see this week, Arnold is a great comedic actor when given the right role. But this? This isn't the right role. This is the waste of a perfectly good actor. This is what happens when you only let one actor be the "funny one." This is what happens when you take the buddy cop formula and fuck it in the ass so hard that the two main characters don't ever feel like "buddies."

Which is funny, considering the director of this reinvented the buddy-cop movie with 48 Hours not one year before he did this. Maybe this was just excess material from that, repurposed into a rickety vehicle for its two stars. Who knows? Who cares? Not me, that's for sure. Well, I do care, just a little. This director made one of my all-time favorite flicks in 1979 with The Warriors, and it's a bit disappointing to see that this is what he was up to almost ten years later. A movie so bad that Arnold in a Russian hat is one of the only highlights.


There are a lot of "wacky guy and serious guy" comedy movies out there, and a good portion of them are better than Red Heat. Do yourself a favor and leave this Heat out in the cold.

Tomorrow, we get to see Arnold being Danny Devito's twin in Twins! Yes, this is a real movie that somebody made!




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