As part of my quest entitled The Arnold Project, I plan on watching all of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movies, no matter how bad. I’m a big fan and consider Commando one of the best action movies of the ’80s, so this won’t be too hard. I’ve already watched Hercules in New York (full review) and you can read all the Arnold Project reviews here.
Arnold plays a Commie Terminator- a dour party-line Moscow cop sent to America to extradite a drug-dealing cop killer who fled to Chicago. Written and directed by Walter Hill gave us The Warriors, Streets of Fire, and another “unlikely buddy” cop movie, 48 Hrs. (full review). This one is similar- we got two iconoclasts who clash against each other, while they seek the same target. It’s not as good as the Nolte/Murphy one, but it’s still pretty good and you get to see Arnold display his rarely-seen acting chops.
Now, Arnie’s Captain Ivan Danko isn’t giving Viggo Mortensen’s mobster from Eastern Promises a run for his money, but he does a good job. And yes, we get to see a fight in a Russian bathhouse. Thankfully Arnie isn’t on full display, but his partner jokes that they’ve stopped calling him “Iron Jaw” and started calling him “roundheaded” because he’s circumcized. TMI, dude. Shortly thereafter they put a sting on some Georgian heroin smugglers in a tavern, but the big man- Viktor Rosta- gets away with a Taxi-Driver style holdout gun, blowing away Danko’s partner. Not long after, Rosta is picked up in Chicago with his heroin source- the “Cleanheads” gang- and Danko, to assuage his shame, is sent to escort him back to Moscow.
In Chi-town Jim Belushi plays Sgt. Art Ridzik, a somewhat lazy and unconventional detective working the Cleanheads case. He and his partner collar Rosta, and once Arnie shows up they are tasked with helping him escort the criminal to the airport. Immediately the thriller music starts playing- this is one James Horner score that really overplays its hand- and we know Rosta is gonna get sprung. And sure enough, the Cleanheads help him escape, killing Ridzik’s partner in the process. Danko gets clubbed on the back of the head immediately, but manages to crawl and get a locker key he palmed off Rosta during some rough interrogation. So he knows Rosta will be back to visit him…
So now Rosta’s killed both their partners, and East and West must collaborate to defeat this menace. Danko sneaked in his huge fuck-off Podbyrin 9.2mm handgun- a black Desert Eagle with a mildly extended barrel- so he and Ridzik get to wreak mayhem on the criminal element of Chicago, as long as they don’t piss off the Commander (Peter Boyle) or the Lieutenant (Lawrence Fishburne) who both have it in for them! But they just can’t argue with results, so you know the drill.
Jim Belushi is supposed to be the loose cannon against Arnie’s stone-faced tough guy with an 80’s brush-cut pompadour; the good thing is they are both essentially comic roles, with Belushi as his usual smart-ass self, and Arnie’s Captain Danko has the cool, sly humor of a Clint Eastwood role. Arnie spent 3 months learning Russian and studied Garbo’s role in Ninotchka for the film, and it’s a refreshing change of pace from his usual movie persona. I think Jim Belushi is underrated, but he’s a bit understated in this role. I would have liked him to be a little more wacky, like in Real Men (full review). About the best line he gets here is mocking Arnie’s turquoise suit: “Undercover? You look like fuckin’ Gumby.”
When Ridzik finds a pimp who might know something (the always welcome, and slimy, Brion James of Blade Runner and Enemy Mine fame) Ridzik breaks the rules by threatening to plant drugs on him. Danko goes one further and just breaks one of his fingers, Stalin-style. After a little talk about “the rights of the individual,” Ridzik sees the benefits of a totalitarian police state, and so do we. Boy, I wish our cops could torture people instead of just planting evidence on them.
They follow the clues to a dancer named Cat Manzetti, Rosta’s latest pump. She’s the exotic Gina Gershon, with that wry grin and feline eyes. She doesn’t have much to do and her motivations are unclear, but she’s pretty to look at. She likes to jump in front of people they want to shoot, and lead them to ambushes, but Danko lets her go anyway. You’d think he’d send to her Siberian death camp, but he has a soft spot for the women Rosta scams. The plot, such as it is, has them fighting over the locker key and ambushing each other; eventually Rosta goes after Arnie in his hotel room, all guns blazing. As in 48 Hrs., Hill has some topless hooker caught in the crossfire, giving us all the guns and boobies a growing boy needs.
There’s also a chase on a bus, which this time tries to top the previous film- by having them play chicken. The stunts are pretty good, and we get not only two buses but a train thrown into the mix. The gunplay is pretty forgettable, but what makes the movie is the chemistry between Belushi and Schwarzenegger. It’s not as comical as the Arnold/Tom Arnold duo in the excellent True Lies, but it works. Half of the time Arnie can get a chuckle with just an expression, or a lack of response. Hell, there’s a whole scene when Arnie’s watch timer goes off, “Time to feed parakeet” that is hilarious. While Red Heat isn’t the best of his movies, it’s a refreshing one, and fans shouldn’t write it off; it’s better than Raw Deal (full review).
Beers Required to Enjoy: 3
Could it be remade today? Eastern Promises 2: Broken Promise
Quotability Rating: minor
Cheese Factor: bland as tvorok
High Points: Arnie asking if a parakeet is feminine
Low Point: Formulaic plot and copycat ending
Gratuitous Boobies: Russian bathhouse babes and a hot hooker