by Jack Sommersby
Well, it's got the nudity and sex and tawdriness, but little of the tension and suspense and surprises one expects from a noir.Lawrence Kasdan's Body Heat runs seven minutes shy of the two-hour mark, and, with its insubstantial screenplay and languid direction, it's easily a half-hour too long. Of course, we don't mind overlength if the product is slightly flawed yet tasty, but here it's considerably flawed yet pasty. A pretentious throwback to those nineteen-forties film-noirs, particularly Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, Body Heat, which Kasdan wrote and directed (he's making his debut doing the latter), boasts some spectacular supporting performances and first-rate atmospheric lighting, but the story and main characters are strictly second-rate -- egregrious elements of such plasticity it's amazing they managed to stick to the celluloid. Which is a shame because the usually-dependable William Hurt stars as small-town Florida attorney Ned Racine, who isn't exactly the brightest in his field: he's rebuked by a judge in court for offering a pithy defense for his client; and later we learn he was threatened with disbarment for ineptly drawing up a simple estate will. (Apparently, the Florida bar exam isn't the most challenging.) There's a sweltering heat wave encompassing the oceanfront community of Crown Beach, and Ned, restless and sexually insatiable, falls under the spell of one Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner), who he encounters on the boardwalk one night while an outside concert is going on. Beautiful and dressed in a slinky white dress, she makes clear right away she's married yet still engages Ned in some flirtatious small talk; but when he returns from the men's room with a paper towel to clean up the red snow-cone juice he's spilled on her expensive outfit (subtle foreshadowing!), she's gone. Having been told by her that she lives in an expensive area just outside of town, he manages to locate her at the local bar a couple of days later; being that her husband is conveniently out of town in Miami during the weekdays, she invites him back to the house, where they have sex and begin a torrid affair. Naturally, talk of bumping off the rich husband ensues: Matty, because he's a "bad guy"; Ned, because he wants the money to take care of Matty (she won't get anything from a divorce because of a prenuptial agreement). Midway into the film, at a restaurant where Ned's gone to dine, he runs into Matty and the husband, Edmund (Richard Crenna), who invites Ned (Matty says he's a friend of a friend) to join them. Edmund, a not-unpleasant type, brags about getting rich doing shady real-estate deals with underworld types, and it's right after this Ned is convinced Edmund has to die.
"Pretentious, Self-Indulgent Noir"
In addition to derivative and riddled with plot holes, Body Heat is superfluously lurid. Kasdan is so utterly determined to literalize everything he leaves very little to the imagination: no home or establishment seems to have adequate air conditioning; everyone's profusively sweating up a storm, especially the lovers going at it with animalistic fury -- we're, of course, meant to think "furious passion ready to explode." In fact, right after the opening credits (with John Barry's music score straining for that 'ol nostalgic effect) we see a burning building, which a postcoital Ned watches from a distance from his bedroom balcony while ignoring the words of the woman he's just had; and later over lunch, a policeman friend makes sure to mention that when it's this hot out people tend to turn on each other and not play by the rules. (And, of course, just about everyone smokes; and the one character who doesn't makes a big deal about the smoking.) The film is absolutely smothered in garishness, obviousness, and to such an eye-rolling degree you expect the characters to break out in song-and-dance declaring it all a parody of noir. But even as straight noir Kasdan bungles things. Edmund, while oily, isn't really amoral (he neither physically nor psychologically abuses Matty), so the decision to off him makes Ned amoral, which throws the dramatic center out of whack because we're supposed to have sympathy for him later when the tables are turned against him. In The Postman Always Rings Twice the murdered husband wasn't really a bad guy, either, but we weren't asked to sympathize with the anti-hero Frank; we did have interest in him, though, because his conscience-deprived drifter was fascinating. But Ned isn't that kind of character. He's bland and recessive, and etched early on to be a decent-hearted Everyman; it simply doesn't click that he'd partake in this particular murder, and for Kasdan to expect us to care about his post-murder fate is nonsensical. Then again, Ned is more a conception than a character; and Hurt, an incisive actor, can't ground what's bereft of underpinnings and make the pseudo-hardboiled dialogue his own. And Matty, as played by the husky-voiced but monotonous Turner, makes for a rather pallid femme fatale: chock-full of lacquered mannerisms, devoid of sultry/nefarious emanations. Luckily, there's terrific backup from Ted Danson, as an assistant district attorney, Mickey Rourke, as an arsonist, and J.A. Preston, as a police lieutenant. In a film badly in need of compression and wit (not to mention a filmmaker impervious to succumbing to genre conventions at each and every turn), they succeed in giving Body Heat a few degrees of vitality.For a far better neo-noir, try James Foley's "After Dark, My Sweet."
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originally posted: 12/13/12 08:04:40