Red Heat


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.

I need your clothes, your borscht and your motorcycle.

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.

Nevah snap my behind with a towel again!!

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.

Sugar or Plain?

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…

Rosta-man

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.

I got zis thru customs by hiding it in pompadour.

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.”

He’s Gumby, dammit!

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.

“At least gimme some lube, tovarisch!”

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.

This is the 38 to Lower Wacker Drive, next stop, Witch Mountain.

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).

Some nice sneak-filming in Red Square.

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

Red Dawn

Wolverines!

John Milius, director of Conan the Barbarian, went on to make another iconic movie in the ’80s- Red Dawn. Back when we thought nuclear war was inevitable, and we still stung from the shame of Iran holding our people hostage for over a year, we really believed that we could be invaded and taken over. But our country was born of a guerrilla war, so why not another one? Red Dawn delivers, with more violence per minute than any film up to its time. Remember, the guy who made this was the inspiration for Walter Sobchek in The Big Lebowski, and he lives up to his reputation.

Soviet Union suffers worst wheat harvest in 55 years… Labor and food riots in Poland. Soviet troops invade… Cuba and Nicaragua reach troop strength goals of 500,000. El Salvador and Honduras fall… Greens Party gains control of West German Parliament. Demands withdrawal of nuclear weapons from European soil… Mexico plunged into revolution… NATO dissolves. United States stands alone.

The story begins in the heartland of the American West, in a small Colorado town. We’re given little time to meet the characters or drink in the setting- like fellow partisans, we will meet them in combat. A schoolteacher is giving a lecture on Genghis Khan (one of Milius’s favorite subjects) when he sees parachutists landing in the schoolyard. He goes out to investigate, and is gunned down by paratroopers in uniform. The invasion of America has begun! Schoolkids are massacred, but a few boys escape in their brother’s pickup truck and make it to their Dad’s gas station and convenience store to regroup.
The boys are naturally led by the eldest, Jed- played by Patrick Swayze of future Road House (full review) fame- and include a young Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell, and eventually some girls- Lea Thompson from Back to the Future as Erica, and Jennifer Grey, best known as Ferris Bueller’s sister, as Toni. Rob’s Dad sends them into the mountains to hole up, but Jed & Matt want to find their own father- and that leads them to the re-education camp, where the rebellious types, identified by the treasonous mayor, have been concentrated. Their Dad is none other than Howard Dean Stanton at his grungiest, telling them to cry no more, and to avenge him. Because he can’t pick them up when they fall off the swings anymore… they need to take care of each other. It’s situations like these where a pair of wire cutters comes in handy, but the Leatherman wasn’t invented yet, so I don’t blame the kids for not breaking their Dad out.

I burn your decadent capitalist National Lampoon!

Shortly thereafter, they begin their partisan campaign- the town is overrun with Russians in tanks, commie soldiers burning books in the street, and you can’t even get your decadent rock music at the store without zoldatten peering at you from under their fur caps. No red-blooded American teen of the ’80s is going to tolerate Der Kommissar in the record shop. So they begin a guerrilla campaign at the gas station. In one of the movie’s most effective scenes, Toni lures a group of tankers into robbing her of food, and when they chase her, the boys pop out of ambush and take them out. From there, they are emboldened despite the Commies executing prisoners by the dozen.
Jed & Matt see their father executed from afar, and they commit to fighting the Red Menace, no matter what the cost. To their great luck, the sparse American resistance leads to a fighter pilot ejecting near their encampment, and they soon have a leader with military training leading their strikes- Col. Andy Tanner (Powers Boothe). He’s the perfect bad-ass, and tells them that compared to the folks in the cities that got nuked, they have it good- they can hunt deer for food, instead of rats, or each other. When a boy kills his first deer, they make him drink its blood to honor its spirit.

Can I mix this with some Coke?

With Boothe leading them, the Wolverines become a terror to the invaders, striking everything them in their camps, their convoys, and even taking out tanks when they’re caught in the crossfire. They deal with traitors, crack commando squads, Hind helicopters hounding them on horseback. The group is winnowed by combat and soon every mission may be a final suicide ruin. We even get to see things from the invaders’ side, with Cuban colonel remembering his own days as a guerrilla, and giving the Wolverines a begrudging respect.

She even has the Sly Stallone snarl goin’ on.

Milius keeps amping up the action while keeping to a tight story about teaching spoiled American brats what a real war on American soil would be like. Sure, it’s a fantasy of sorts- and if you don’t think the movie is trashy, it’s about rednecks saving the country against Russkies and Red Cuba foreigner types- but his relentlessly violent script isn’t mere wish fulfillment, but an attempt at bringing the reality of war home to a country that hasn’t seen it up close since the 1860’s. It’s much different when you’re sending your boys off to die someplace and aren’t seeing bombs dropped on Mom and her apple pie.
Milius doesn’t make the film oppressively brutal, either. There’s plenty of tongue in cheek, such as when some Soviet soldiers visit a National Park, and translate the sign through the filter of propaganda, or when he pans from a bumper sticker reading “They can have my gun when they pry it from my cold dead fingers” to a dead hand, with a gun in it, getting pried out by a jackbooted soldier.

When the war’s over, Andy, can I join the mile high club?

The kids play touch football when they’re not planning missions, and the girls are treated equally- because they fight too. However, this is still a boy’s world. There’s no room for romance except Lea Thompson getting a crush on Powers Boothe, as creepy as that is. And whenever things begin to look too much like a pigeon shoot, we see the brutal reality of civilians mowed down for supporting the partisans, or the rain of metallic death awaiting kids with AK47’s against an attack helicopter.
Milky and I tried to recapture the Cold War paranoia of the early ’80s by donning our Soviet trooper hats and speaking only in pidgin Russian we’d picked up from movies. It felt horribly wrong to wear dirty pinko commie regalia while our people were being slaughtered, but that just speaks to the effectiveness of Milius’s nightmare fantasy- where America would have to be destroyed in order to save it, and once again slake the Tree of Liberty with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

Tovarisch, I have come to respect these “wolverines.”

Our country was born in revolutionary violence, and in the late ’70s and early ’80s whence I was raised, the country was in both an economic and spiritual malaise. We made even shittier cars than we do now, like the Pinto, of which I drove one of the few unexploded specimens. Until Reagan and Yakov Smirnov made us feel good about ourselves, we needed a movie like this. If you don’t believe me, after a few years of this Wall Street treachery we’ll see a remake.

Beers Required to Enjoy: Zero, but the more the better
Could it be remade today? Da! I mean, nyet! Russia is ally!
Quotability Rating: Awesome
Cheese Factor: Land O’ Lakes White American, baby!
High Points: WOLVERINES!
Low Point: The lack of Red Day, Red Dusk, and Red Twilight sequels
Gratuitous Boobies: No such capitalist decadence!

And if you think something like Red Dawn couldn’t happen again, Soviet soldiers have been spotted in the suburbs, infiltrating our karaoke bars to sing Soviet anthems such as “Back in the U.S.S.R.”

Defiance

I love a good World War 2 movie. The problem is we’ve heard so many of the stories from that war. Well now Edward Zwick (The Last Samurai, Glory) and Daniel Craig (James Bond) are telling us one we haven’t heard before about the Bielski Partisans, Polish Jews who fought back against the Germans and saved 1200 people by camping in the forest. It’s an amazing tale and makes you wonder if the city folk of the ghettos were as well armed as their country cousins, if they could have fought back the onslaught of Hitler’s blitzkrieg. But that’s something for writers of Alternative History fantasy books and nerds rolling dice in their basements to decide.

Defiance is the tale of Tuvia Bielski (Daniel Craig) and his brothers, who come home to find their mother and father murdered by German soldiers. When they find out that a local constable has been pointing out the Jews for the invading Germans, Tuvia takes a pistol and goes to the man’s house for revenge. From then on they are fugitives, hiding with friendlies and making quick raids for food and to kill soldiers when they can. But other Jews who escaped the trains to the camps begin to find them. Not all can fight. And those aiding them are murdered. So Tuvia and his brothers Zus (Liev Schrieber), Asael and Aron take to the woods with them.
The forests are deep. They begin with simple lean-tos, but eventually have a huge camp with small cabins, soup lines, and scheduled food raids. The locals don’t take too kindly to being raided, and Tuvia tries to spread the pain around so no one suffers too much. Some give freely, but others need the persuasion of gunpoint. Survival is survival; the thefts are not glossed over. The camp grows and grows, and everyone brings sad news of towns emptied of Jews- either killed or herded to the trains. Zus wants to be true partisans, to fight the Germans, but Tuvia would rather “save one old Jewish woman than kill ten Germans.” And this brings the film its only real conflict.



This is what gives the film a bit of depth, because when your enemy is the Nazis, there is little ambiguity. Instead, we get to think about whether it is more noble to save the innocent, or fight evil. In the end we need to do both, but it is not always an easy choice. The movie does not dwell too long on these tough choices, but does not ignore them. It is not an easy task for Tuvia to lead his people. Some fight, and all work. The fighters want a bigger share of their meager meals. They bring a German soldier prisoner, and Tuvia’s declaration that they will not behave as animals is put to the test.
But in the end this is a war movie, and the action is excellent. As partisans they fight with ambushes and guerrilla tactics, and Zwick does not gloss over the violence. A car full of German officers and their dates are ambushed on the way to a party. There is no hesitation. The Jewish women fight as well, for guns are the great equalizer; and they die, in numbers, without sentiment. They are women fighting for their lives, not Ewoks. Their lives and honor are just as important as the men’s. Zus fights with the Russian partisans and learns that “comrade” be damned, they have no love of Jews either; Stalin’s “socialist principles” are only enforced when it serves the right purposes.
I enjoyed Defiance, but like Zwick’s other epic films- Legends of the Fall, Glory, The Last Samurai, and Blood Diamond it has an old-fashioned Hollywood quality with broad appeal and background characters drawn in stereotype. The smaller characters seem like functions of the plot and filler for color- we have an apolitical teacher and an intellectual hashing out whether Stalin will be any better than Hitler, which is ironic to us with 20/20 hindsight. The women and younger brothers fade into the landscape. The women take up with the men without the usual courtship and call themselves “forest wives,” but most of them blend in with the trees. But like Glory, Zwick once again tells us a tale we did not know before, and puts a face to history. He does a fine job, and made another memorable film here.

3.5 Schmeissers out of 5