Those who don’t know Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna would certainly identify them from the shiny Carolco logo which appeared at the head of some of the most visible action pictures of the '80s and '90s (‘First Blood’, ‘Terminator 2’, ‘Total Recall’). Kassar and Vajna were successful as producers because they hired some of the best action directors to ever film a gunfight, such as James Cameron, Paul Verhoeven and Walter Hill.
Red Heat (1988) dir. Walter Hill
Starring: James Belushi, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ed O’Ross, Peter Boyle
By Alan Bacchus
Walter Hill in particular was one of the great action auteurs who apprenticed under the great Sam Peckinpah. Hill’s pictures in the late '70s and early '80s, including The Warriors, The Driver and Extreme Prejudice, mixed western genre sensibilities with modern and mainstream action.
Unfortunately Red Heat is not one of Hill’s best pictures, but it has enough of his muscular masculine panache to produce a decent action boner.
The opening is a fun homoerotic suspense sequence inside a Russian bathhouse. Arnold, playing an undercover Russian cop called Ivan Danko, is scoping for Russian drug dealers and enters the steamy sauna populated by muscle-bound Russians lifting weights. He's no pushover, and he easily kicks some major ass all over the place.
The key perp, 'Rosta' Rostavili, played deliciously by Ed O’Ross, escapes to the U.S. to complete a huge multi-million dollar deal with some Chicago black Muslim thugs. Danko follows him and connects with local Chicago cops to catch Rosta's trail, partnering up with affable but tough detective Art Ridzik (James Belushi).
The culture clash between Commie and American produces some decent sight gags but very little substantial political commentary. The mechanics of the investigation are also rudimentary. Hill goes through the motions of using dirty tactics, including threats of violence to witnesses and staking out hookers and brothels to find Rosta.
By Hill’s standards the action scenes are minor and only adequate – none rival some of the great heist sequences in Johnny Handsome and Extreme Prejudice, or the chase scenes in The Driver. Even the buddy comedy dynamic is a pale version of the Eddie Murphy/Nick Nolte pairing in 48 Hours.
The final bus chase through Chicago is the highlight – a preposterous chase sequence indicative of the prevailing attitude of over-the-top carnage in 1980s action.