On the Indonesian island of Java, a suicide bombing at an art show has ended the life of a sultan's daughter, and the last person to speak to her before her death is a mysterious American who goes by the name Jake Wilde (Kellan Lutz). Jake claims to be a graduate student, visiting for the art show, but local cop Hashim (Ario Bayu) notices some holes in his story. After a little further investigation -- and after Jake saves his life by firing back at a trio of men who try to murder them both -- Hashim gets Jake to confess he's there trying to track down the man behind not only the Java bombing, but a string of similar crimes. Hashim is reluctant to get involved, but as the case starts to spill into his own life, he's forced to partner with Jake as they try to get their man, a French pedophile jewel thief named Malik (Mickey Rourke).
In many ways, Java Heat is a throwback to the days of the buddy-cop thriller, complete with an eccentric bad guy, family members in danger, and a final shootout in a stylish location. However, there are a number of distinctly 21st century touches that help update the formula, such as making the American the fish out of water, and a faint trace of self-awareness. More importantly, Java Heat has a capable director at the helm in Conor Allyn, who delivers well-staged action, sets a brisk pace, and scored a casting coup in the form of Bayu, whose natural charisma really makes this a fun little ride.
Lutz is most famous for his role in the Twilight movies, and the last attempt to turn one of the series' leading men into an action star (Taylor Lautner's Abduction) didn't go over so well. Lutz hits some bum notes (a rooftop scene where he first confesses his agenda to Hashim is kind of embarrassing), but when he's allowed to be more casual, he's a reasonably engaging screen presence. Additionally, the screenplay, by Allyn and his father, Rob, suggests that at least some of the character's dim-bulb aggressiveness is a joke about America's "we're number one" attitude. As the film continues, Lutz locates an endearing balance between dumb and motivated, and he's more than capable at handling the physical demands of the role, like a motorcycle chase through a maze of alleys.
That said, the real draw of the movie is Indonesian star Bayu, who exudes personality without much effort. He has a calm and collected attitude that contrasts nicely with Jake's belligerence, and he's more than capable of adding a level of gravitas to standard, silly thriller concepts. As the relationship between Hashim and Jake becomes stronger, he also delivers some nice understated one-liners, and their chemistry is one of the film's strongest suits. Although there is a somewhat awkward section of the movie where the character is relegated to the background in favor of Jack, Bayu's performance is a great example of how to develop a character through the core performance rather than showy scenes, and without relying on the story or script to fill in those details.
As far as gunfights, explosions, and car chases go, Allyn proves to be a confident director, juggling complicated sequences with relative ease (an elaborate Mexican standoff in a hotel room is a highlight). His one mistake is trying to push quick-cut trends even farther by adding intentional choppiness to hand-to-hand and chase sequences, which only makes them confusing. In the background, Rourke doesn't break a sweat unleashing a goofy French accent and some half-speed speechifying -- somehow, this gonzo pairing of actor and character could be the least interesting aspect of the movie. One cliche from the buddy-cop days Java Heat could've done without is its treatment of women -- half are hookers and half are damsels in distress, with Allyn lingering too long on the bloody corpse of one escort who gets gunned down in the crossfire, clad only in her underwear. At least Allyn has the decency to include a brief moment where Jake acknowledges that he's responsible for her death, and evens out the objectification tables with a scene of Lutz lying naked on a massage table.
A glance at reviews for Java Heat aren't all that positive, and the direct-to-video release in the US doesn't speak to much confidence on the part of IFC. It's true that the movie doesn't break any new ground in an old and tired genre, but Java Heat scores points through plain old good filmmaking, taking what could have been mediocre to boring and elevating it to fun through sheer hard work. All things considered, Java Heat should easily stand out above most DTV fare, and more than worth a look for genre fans.
IFC brings Java Heat home with some generic guns-and-explosions cover art that passes on the buddy-cop aspect (and any sign of Bayu) for the two recognizable American actors. Fair to argue that Lutz and Rourke are protagonist and villain, respectively, but the fact that Bayu isn't even stuck in the corner somewhere on the front is silly. The disc comes in a standard non-eco Blu-Ray case, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Surprisingly, Java Heat was shot on 35mm film, and the result is a wonderful -- but not razor-sharp -- 2.35:1 AVC 1080p image. Heavy grain is present throughout the image, especially during dark scenes, which have a rich and pleasing inky blackness. Banding is not an issue. Despite a softness to the image that comes with shooting on film, detail is very good and the image displays depth in many scenes. Allyn and cinematographer Shane Daly choose a number of distinctive palettes, from a green interrogation room to cold blue stairwells, and primarily sandy brown desert, with a hint of red to suggest the sweltering heat. Each of these shades is beautifully rendered, without any murkiness or smearing. Blacks may be a little crushed, but the crushing is consistent, suggesting that it is intentional.
A DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is equally impressive. American films tend to show their hand a little, but Java Heat will spontaneously jump into an action sequence, and the track roars to life, capturing every thunderous explosion and gunshot with window-rattling clarity. The film's first big showcase is a car crash sequence that lights up all five speakers, and from there the film racks up a number of interesting show-stoppers, including a rocket launcher explosion blasting apart a hotel room and some gunfire in an aqueduct, which reverberate off of the walls. The finale mixes fireworks and machine gun fire, and there is never an instance of dialogue, ambient sound effects, or music getting lost in this aggressive action experience. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also included.
The only extra is a making-of featurette (27:37, HD). Despite a dopey introduction where the cast and crew talk about the meaning of the title, this is a reasonably good overview of the production, which is heavy on B-roll and behind-the-scenes footage rather than clips. Each of the cast members get a bit of the spotlight, as well as both of the Allyns. Don't expect any incredible revelations about the production, but there's some nice material here about shooting the film on location in Indonesia.
Trailers for On the Road, Dirty Wars, Welcome to the Punch, and Inescapable play before the main menu. An original trailer for Java Heat is also included.
At the very least, Java Heat is worth a watch to see Bayu, who could easily make a name for himself in America as well as Indonesia. The fact that the rest of the movie is a fun, well-made thriller only sweetens the pot. Recommended.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.