Red Heat is a Glasnost era buddy cop movie teaming up Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Belushi. The plot involves a drug trade connection between the USSR and the United States. Directed by action impresario Walter Hill, the film barely manages to meet genre standards, but is helped along by moments of wry humor and topical political commentary.
Hill recycled the buddy cop formula that worked so well in his 1982 film 48 Hours with Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte. In Red Heat Arnold is Captain Ivan Danko working for the Soviet military police on the trail of a Georgian drug lord who eludes capture and makes his way to America (after an opening sequence at a bathhouse featuring a nude fight scene). Danko is sent to Chicago to follow a lead and partnered with Detective Art Ridzik (Belushi), the prototypical cynical American cop. One thing the film does well is plays on the contrasts between them: Arnold the ultimate physical specimen and chain smoking/chili dog scarfing Belushi whose only skill is making wisecracks.
Red Heat relies on the tired formulas of the genre. We meet a parade of repugnant drug dealers. There's a climatic bus chase. Supporting players Larry Fishburne, Peter Boyle, and Gina Gershon aren't given much to do. Neither is there much depth to the two leads, Schwarzenegger is in stentorian mode the entire time, while Belushi seems uncertain if he's in a comedy or drama. The two share a nice moment at the end discussing baseball, but the script eschews complexity in favor of action tropes (the script was constantly being revised during filming). James Horner's score bordered on grating.
If there's an underlying message at all, it's that America and the Soviet Union shared a common enemy in drug dealers. Red Heat was in line with many films of the era capitalizing on the Cold War thaw, usually through both sides opening the lines of communication. It would be curious to imagine a sequel with Ridzik going to Moscow. An artifact of a specific moment in the 1980s, the film will inevitably disappoint but does provide an unusual blending of genres.
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