Blu-Ray Review: RED HEAT (1988)

If someone asked you to name five, even perhaps ten Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, chances are none of them would be Red Heat. Even in the context of the 80’s, arguably his most successful period as a marquee action star, Walter Hill’s buddy cop action thriller hasn’t resonated down the ages as a signature Arnie movie. The question is why.

For a start, Red Heat deliberately eschews what by this point people had started to love the Austrian Oak for – his clumsy, cod-American charisma, most effectively delivered in films such as Commando in 1985 or Predator in 1987 (and they would see again later in 1988 with Twins). That isn’t to say that Arnie’s Soviet detective Ivan Danko doesn’t wisecrack—he often does, for deliberate ‘fish out of water’ effect’—but Danko lacks the hard man smarts of John Matrix or Dutch Schaefer. Arnie has to play him more like the T-800 in a Russian costume, with occasional deadpan comic lines. He ports some of this style actually into the T-800 when he plays a reversed, good-guy version of the character in Terminator 2: Judgment Day three years later.

This presents a problem, in that Arnie comes off a little stilted, a little restrained. By this point, as he has settled deeper into the acting persona he has started to develop, Schwarzenegger struggles to play both the straight man *and* comic foil in Red Heat, which is essentially is forced to do. In theory, James Belushi’s smart-mouthed Chicago cop, his reluctant partner Art Ridzik, should fill the comic role but he just comes off as Martin Riggs with the edges filed off, and Belushi—a gifted comic actor—just doesn’t have the material to be more than an annoyance for much of the picture. There’s a reason Art Ridzik never comes up when people talk about the 80’s finest buddy cop characters, you know? Red Heat falls down because the central partnership never really comes alive, and the premise is predicated to an extent on the match up.

The reason Red Heat is perfectly watchable, however, lies in some of the broader aspects to Hill’s picture.

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Last Action Hero (1993)

Last Action Hero is both ahead of its time and perfectly positioned *within* the era it was made, such is the paradox of a forgotten curiosity of 1990’s action cinema and the stratospheric career of Arnold Schwartzenegger.

Here’s my story and why I’m writing about Last Action Hero some twenty five years on from its release. I was 11 years old when Last Action Hero was released in cinemas, in the US one week after Steven Spielberg’s decade-defining Jurassic Park. In theory, I was the perfect age to consume a film which is entirely about the youthful obsession of a similarly-aged child, Austin O’Brien’s Danny Madigan, with action adventure cinema. Jurassic Park I badgered my parents to take me to see three times yet I didn’t go anywhere near Last Action Hero. It didn’t even register with me. It has taken me until age 36 to actually sit down and watch it, and this is after spending at least the last twenty years being an enormous fan of Schwarzenegger’s movies and career. Last Action Hero was always the Arnie film I missed.

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Scrooged (1988)

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is my favourite story in all of fiction. Honestly. For all the hundreds of movies or TV shows I have seen, or books I have read, it always comes back to Dickens’ story of cold-hearted London businessman Ebernezer Scrooge and his Christmas Eve haunting by the three spirits who show him the error of his ways, and teach him to be as good a man as the good old world had ever seen. It’s a timeless, beautifully structured, gloriously heartfelt narrative which doesn’t just imbue the meaning of Christmas—a time we all take a breath and enjoy the people in our lives—but what it means to be a good human. With any great piece of fiction, an innumerable amount of takes and reinventions are destined to lie in its future – which leads us right to Scrooged.

Richard Donner’s comedic take on the Dickens legend feels particularly apposite in terms of the age it was written. Scrooged is post-Wall Street, the epitome of Reagan’s corporate America, hence why the choice is made to reinvent the character of Scrooge for a new age in Bill Murray’s vicious, irascible Frank Cross and make him a powerful TV executive. Everything about Frank’s life speaks to the consumerist, vacuous nature of entertainment the 1980’s truly gave birth to – he is a Scrooge for the MTV generation, appropriately. Donner’s film therefore provides a new way into Dickens’ story, which traditionally is adapted as either a straight TV or cinematic version of the 19th century parable, or a modern, updated take on the character of Scrooge.

The difference with Scrooged is that Dickens’ story is a construct within Frank’s existence itself; he may be presented as a modern Scrooge, and experience the same essential journey and epiphany as the character of Scrooge does, but the ‘meta’ approach to Scrooged sees an adaptation of A Christmas Carol as part of the story itself, with Buddy Hackett no less as an improbably accented Ebernezer. This creative choice makes Scrooged read as a satire on Christmas entertainment, as well as Dickens himself, while also playing out the same redemptive beat for the character of Frank. Everything about the film is done with a knowing wink of the eye and tongue very much in cheek. Even the title suggests Dickens is being *done* to our main character.

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