Back in the 1980s following the success of The Terminator, the attempt to make Arnold Schwarzenegger the next big action star had gone into full-blown overdrive. What I'm guessing people were thinking is that because he made a hit movie by acting like a robot, let's try to make him do robot-like things in our movie, without actually ripping off the cyborg character. That might explain the reason for the concept behind Red Heat, the buddy cop film which featured Arnold as emotionless Russian police captain Ivan Danko, cast opposite the ever obtuse Jim Belushi.
Walter Hill (48 Hours) came up with the story which he would later direct. In Russia, Danko is following Viktor Rostov (Ed O' Ross, Full Metal Jacket), a drug dealer from the Republic of Georgia who is smuggling cocaine shipments into the motherland. Danko attempts to apprehend Rostov, but he escapes, fleeing to America and killing Danko's partner in the process. Danko flies to Chicago, where Rostov has been spotted, to capture Rostov and bring him home. He meets with the Chicago police at the airport on his arrival, namely the brash Detective Ridzik (Belushi). Danko has been told before coming to America to withhold his reasons for being in Chicago for fear that it will embarrass communism. His avoidance to share information frustrates Ridzik and his boss Commander Donnelly (Peter Boyle, Young Frankenstein), but soon, just like every reluctant cop film, Danko and Ridzik start to bond, united in their pursuit of the suspect.
Now there are very few cop films where the chemistry of the protagonists, or the quality of the story, hold up over time. Red Heat is a good example of this not working. Someone presumably thought that Schwarzenegger and Belushi would be a unique combination at the time. I've got to admit that I marked out for it at the time, but I was a teenager then. I even thought Belushi's Marvin Hagler joke was funny. But jeez, this film definitely hasn't aged well. I laughed once during this movie when watching it for this review, and it was for a throwaway line in a diner with Belushi and Schwarzenegger. Belushi tries to carry the film on his one trick of humor and occasional profanity. That doesn't work, so when he tries to resort to a little more physical work of an action film character, his running looks like he's going to drop dead of a coronary any minute. It wouldn't be so funny if it weren't so...yeah, it's pretty funny.
On the positive side of things, it was encouraging to watch a young Lawrence Fishburne (The Matrix) as Ridzik's Lieutenant, and an even younger Gina Gershon (Showgirls) as a love interest for Viktor, but their time on screen is fleeting. You're left watching this forced chemistry between Arnold and Jim for 90 minutes, full of a whole lot of unfunny jokes about Russia, made even more irrelevant because of the Cold War's dissolution. In fact, Red Heat is almost like Russia itself; formidable and impressive at the time, now almost not worth picking fun of because it would take a lot to fight back.
The Blu-ray Disc:
I remember when watching the film years ago that it was a dark and otherwise drab looking production. In 1.78:1 1080p high definition with the AVC MPEG-4 codec, Red Heat cleans up nice in some areas (like in some tight shots where detail on Schwarzenegger and Gershon can be made out). However, there is a distinct lack of clarity and depth through the entire picture that when compared to other Arnold films of the era, is disappointing. It even looks as if some digital noise reduction might have been applied in some Arnold close-ups as well. I wasn't looking for a miracle, but this transfer appears a little all over the place.
The DTS-HD Master audio 5.1 lossless track does what's required of it. That is to say that the audio mix was lackluster, and the lossless audio doesn't provide any new revelations. This action film lacks any real speaker panning during gunfire and fight sequences, and the subwoofer fires during the climatic end battle with the buses and trains. Dialogue doesn't bleed into the other front channel speakers, but it gets weak at various points through the feature, requiring a little compensation. Like in the video, I wasn't expecting miracles when it came to a lossless track, but I did want something.
Three new featurettes grace this disc, and none of these includes recent footage from Schwarzenegger or Belushi. "East Meets West" (9:40) is the story of how executive producers Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna met up and their work in producing Carolco films in the '80s, like the first Terminator film and the Rambo trilogy, to name a few. They discuss Hill's idea and pitch to them, along with some production anecdotes from shooting in Russia. They even talk about their friendship with Arnold here too. It's a nice and quick segment. "A Stuntman for All Seasons" (12:27) is a tribute to second unit director and longtime stuntman Bennie Dobbins, who died of a heart attack during production. Fellow stuntmen recall his life and work in organizing a Stuntman's Association, and his impact on Hollywood is covered, along with his on-set death. It's a touching tribute to an unheralded member of the business. "I'm Not a Russian, But I Play One On TV" (5:14) interviews O'Ross, whose accent was so convincing for the film that people were shocked to find out he was an American for years afterward. It's a kitschy though unnecessary piece. The original making of special is next (15:58), which includes on-set interviews from the stars, along with Gershon and Fishburne, accompanied by dramatic voiceover discussing important, though non-spoilery plot points for the film. Like many other generic electronic press kits of the era, this is bland and not worth the time. Four TV spots (1:41), with separately filmed introductions by the two characters, are next, along with the film's trailer (2:09). The press material and on-set EPK are all full frame video only.
While Red Heat was a nice stroll down memory lane, the road was filled with potholes along the way. The performances were flat and uninspired, the story was more of a cash grab than I realized, and the disc isn't mind-blowing either. With lackluster audio and video merits, and some bonus material that was new (to their credit) but boring, Red Heat is only worth picking up or even watching if you're a hardcore Arnold Schwarzenegger (or Jim Belushi, cough) fan. Otherwise, you're wasting time and money by buying or renting this.