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‘Red Heat’ (R)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 17, 1988

"Red Heat," the new film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Belushi, is fast and brutal in an up-to-the-minute, Hollywood fashion. And that it attempts to capitalize on the thaw between this country and the Soviet Union adds a measure of topicality. But make no mistake about it, even with the glasnost backdrop, "Red Heat" is far from custom-made; it's right off the assembly line.

My guess is that if you laid the script of "Red Heat" on a scale the needle would barely move. This movie, which was written by director Walter Hill, Harry Kleiner and Troy Kennedy Martin, doesn't waste a lot of time on idle chat. It gets moving quickly and keeps moving, and if you like hard-core action peppered with fist-in-the-face comedy, and you're ambivalent about the need for characterization or story, then you may find the film satisfying.

Then again, you may have some problems.

The film's premise calls for a Moscow homicide cop named Danko (Schwarzenegger) to come to Chicago, on orders from his government, to extradite the leading figure in the Soviet drug underground. Once in America Danko, who portions out his words as if they were gemstones, is given a partner, a plainclothesman named Ridzik (James Belushi), who talks a blue streak. Ridzik and Danko don't like each other. That's to be expected. And it's to be expected, too, that during their journey together through the mean streets of this capitalist Sodom they lay waste to a sizable portion of the city, flaunt their disregard for such weenie niceties as the Miranda rule and, no thanks to their bureaucracy-bound superiors, eventually run their prey to ground.

In the process, of course, they become the fastest of friends. The bond develops partly because the culprit, whose name is Viktor (Ed O'Ross), has killed both men's partners, and partly because they're both, well, men. Men's men. And what are little differences in ideology when compared with such hormonal affinities?

On the face of it, Schwarzenegger and Hill would seem to have compatible talents, but even though the Austrian-born star adopts a Russian accent for the role, the character is virtually indistinguishable from any other he's played. Also, the Schwarzenegger-Belushi pairing -- which echoes the Eddie Murphy-Nick Nolte partnership in "48 Hrs.," which Hill also directed -- doesn't amount to much. There's no comic spark.

The movie is close enough to every other urban buddy-cop movie that it prompts feelings of de'ja` vu. And perhaps this accounts for its dispirited, cynical air. In "The Warriors," "The Long Riders" and "Southern Comfort," Hill gave a terse, hard-bitten grandeur to the men-in-action genre, and their violent eruptions seemed to flow from an inner source -- they were shotgun blasts from the soul. But in "Red Heat," Hill continues the lack of personal involvement that began several films back, his assumption being, perhaps, that because Hollywood doesn't want his artistry, he will withhold everything but his proficiency.

This is what happens when artists in Hollywood begin to think of themselves only as professionals -- as men executing work for hire. This is not to say that "Red Heat" is poorly, or even indifferently, made. Some scenes, like the game of chicken played with buses, are like giant pranks, and there's audacity in the way they're shot. But for most of the film Hill seems only to be going through the motions. His mannerisms -- the snarled dialogue, the macho posturing and the knowing world-weariness -- are by now so familiar that they verge on parody. In "Red Heat," Hill is spoofing himself, but it's a joyless exercise, and too much angry resignation seeps in for it to be very funny or very entertaining.

"Red Heat" contains graphic violence and profanity.

Copyright The Washington Post

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