Red Heat DVD review

Arnie gets a partner in this buddy cop flick from the 80s. How does Walter Hill's movie stand up twenty years on?

red heat

When I first saw Red Heat on TV years ago I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite the heavy language censorship. The action came thick and fast, the villain was suitably moody and Arnie was on top of his game. I’m happy to report that revisiting the film all these years on is a surprisingly enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half.

For the uninitiated, Red Heat tells the story of stern, serious Russian police officer Ivan Danko who lands in the city of Chicago on the trail of Russian mobster Viktor. Having fled from his homeland, Danko is tasked with bringing him back home to face his punishment and on arriving in Chicago is teamed up with wiseass cop Ridzik (played by James Belushi). The polar opposites end up having to work closer together when Viktor causes chaos in the city, and… well there are no surprises as to how the film pans out.

This is a plot many a movie fan has heard several times before and it’s fair to say that Red Heat makes no concessions in trying to break any new ground. However, put that to one side and remember the era in which the film was first released and it more than earns its place in anyone’s DVD catalogue.

The chief reasons behind this are the film’s main star and the Director. By the time Red Heat came out, Arnie was a well-established Hollywood A-lister. Successes including The Terminator, Predator, and The Running Man had cemented his place as the number one action star to call on and his performance in Red Heat was one full of confidence. Audiences knew what they wanted from a Schwarzenegger film by then, and Red Heat delivered. Clearly cast to type, Arnie makes Ivan Danko a highly memorable character, despite having little characterisation to work with.

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Then there are the action scenes – he nails every one. Even the preposterous opening slugfest in a sauna is well handled by the big man. Sure he brings nothing new to the table but then Arnie is Arnie, none more so than throughout the late 80s. What you see is what you get, and what you get is a rock solid action performance from a rock solid action professional.

As for Director Hill, Red Heat has some wonderfully executed action sequences that he deserves high praise for. The final showdown in particular, in which Arnie basically plays chicken against Viktor with buses, still holds up as a wonderfully over the top, yet witty interpretation of an action scene. Chicago provides a suitably gritty backdrop for the plot to unfold and when you consider that the shots of Russia were basically taken on the fly (as one of the DVD extras reveals) it demonstrates some of the limitations he was under.

I haven’t mentioned Belushi yet, and that’s for good reason. The one big problem with Red Heat is that while it is indeed a great, switch-your-brain-off action film, the comedy falls flat. This comes largely down to Belushi not having the required big star status to pull off his role as Arnie’s sidekick. Arnie’s comedic talents are always going to rely on him saying little, on playing it straight. In this film he needed someone opposite him who could play the cranky, curmudgeon Ridzik with charm and good humour and, unfortunately, Belushi just isn’t up to the task. He never looks anything less then awkward throughout and when the film focuses on the relationship between the pair, it drags.

Looking at the extras on the disc, they are disappointing. Considering the time that has passed since the film first came out, it’s not unfair for fans to expect a decent selection of commentaries, interviews and features. What you actually get are three short features, each coming in at around the ten-minute mark, which is a shame as the revelations therein are actually pretty good. An interview with Ed ‘Viktor’ O’Ross reveals how despite often playing Russian roles, he’s actually an American actor, and another covers the rise of Carolco Pictures which was the studio behind Red Heat and other classics such as Total Recall, and Terminator 2.

Judged as an, admittedly throwaway, action film, Red Heat still delivers an entertaining night in. However, there is a niggling feeling that it could have been even better if they’d got the comedy right.


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3 stars

DVD Extras:

2 stars


4 out of 5