- Directed, Co-Written, and Co-Produced by Walter Hill
- June 17, 1988 (Los Angeles and New York)
A Soviet police officer follows a Georgian drug smuggler to the United States and joins with a Chicago police officer to bring him down.
Red Heat is a movie that could’ve only come out in the 80s. First off, it is the mismatched testosterone heavy buddy action crime film that was very popular back then. But also it’s because the politics of the time largely play into the story. The Cold War causes the danger of what our villain is doing and the issues with stopping him. Plus it seems just about every villain in those buddy action movies during the 80s was pushing heroin or cocaine or both and Viktor Rosta (Ed O’Ross) gets in on both at one point or another in this.
The plot itself when you boil it down to the basics is nothing unique. But it’s not only the heavy influences of the particular time that make it special but the pairing of Belushi and Schwarzenegger. They complimented each other very well. Schwarzenegger is very straightlaced in his part as Captain Ivan Danko. He’s the most by the book of by the book Russian cops but as the movie goes along his need to follow the rules slowly gives away to a need to avenge his partner’s death at the hands of Rosta.
Belushi during the time had a bit of a movie career and was the perfect 80s asshole. Being a principal or like here as a cop he was just perfect for that. His character of Detective Sergeant Art Ridzik is not afraid to bend the rules. He has a personality that is grating on just about everybody which leads to many of his problems. And it also leads his partnership with Danko. No matter the outcome Ridzik’s boss Commander Donnelly (Peter Boyle) comes out of the situation pretty much unscathed.
Rosta gets built up as a rather intelligent and vicious villain. He starts as a simple drug runner that skips town (and uses a cohorts leg to hide cocaine) but by the end of the story has morphed into a villain worthy of going up against. He is genuine larger than life threat willing to be cold and brutal.
Red Heat tones down significantly Ahnuld’s general screen persona of the era. If you go in expecting a plethora of witty one liners you will be disappointed. And going with that it has a better thought through fictional world than one might otherwise get in his movies. There is a logic to the villain’s plot and the workings of the criminal world. What Danko does collides with political realities and Ridzik faces consequences for what he does. From the Russian and all the way to the American, and nothing seemed cartoonish or overly silly.
But that is not the only thing they tone down. Donnelly is not an over the top shouting boss. Lieutenant Stobbs (Laurence Fishburne) is Ridzik’s work nemesis not out to get him but rather comes down on him because of his rule skirting and a clash of personalities. And Gina Gershon’s character gets in over her head because of desperation on her part over something else. In other words, compared to other action films of the day it takes things more realistically.
As is the norm, the two mismatched cops come to understand each other and even form a friendship. And while not too deep or serious, this film does make commentary on the politics of the time. Danko ends the film by saying “We’re police officers, not politicians. It’s okay for us to like each other.” It’s a nice ending. And it’s not an ending that’s relies on macho. More often than not these movies ended in the rubble of whatever criminal organization they were trying to take down with a witty one-liner, but not here. The closest we get to a witty one liner is when Ridzik realizes he exchanged his thousand dollar watch with Danko for a $20 east German watch as a show of friendship.
And then there’s the score by James Horner. The man was an absolute legend and his music just made everything better. He helps sell the movie and his music tells the story along with the performances of the actors.
Red Heat is a standout among the mismatched buddy cup films of the time. Along with the action that culminates in an awesome finale it has a well-done story with a great score. If you’re a fan of Schwarzenegger or just good action this is a must watch.