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Worth A Look: 21.43%
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Total Crap: 14.29%

1 review, 8 user ratings

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Heat (1987)
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by Jack Sommersby

"Tepid as a Thriller; Wonderful as a Character Study"
3 stars

Burt Reynolds plays a tough guy here, but it's actually in a modest, unselfish star performance that resonates with feeling and depth.

In the entertaining Heat, Burt Reynolds delivers one of his very best performances as Nick Escalante, an ex-mercenary and the only licensed "chaperone" in the state of Nevada who may just be the most lethal man alive. Previously featured in Soldier of Fortune magazine and an expert in edged weapons (he detests guns but can take one away from someone and shove it down his throat), Nick is a go-to guy for people who need certain problems fixed in Las Vegas -- problems that can't be resolved through normal police channels. The most recent of his clients is longtime friend Holly (an appealing Karen Young), the victim of a vicious rape-and-beating by Danny DeMarco (the abysmal Neil Barry, who sounds as if he were dubbed by Rob Lowe), the spoiled son of a rich Southern mob boss; she wants Nick to immobilize DeMarco and his two henchman to give her the chance to even the score. His second client is young, meek-and-meager self-made millionaire Cyrus Kinnick (a superlative Peter MacNichol), a self-deluded gambling addict whose idea of a big bet is twenty-five dollars at the tables while sipping a Perrier; he hires Nick as a bodyguard to safeguard him from non-existent dangers. (As Nick tiredly informs him, no one's ever been mugged in a casino, and there are yellow things located outside -- they're called cabs, to get one safely back to one's hotel.) Nick isn't much interested in the job, but he's got a living to make and is determined to realize his dream by raising one-hundred-thousand dollars to set him up for five years in Venice. Why just five years? We don't know. But his fundraising hasn't gone well thus far: when asked how short he is, and he answers ninety-nine-thousand-seven-hundred, he's told he must have had a very profitable morning.

For a film adorned with the tag line "It doesn't get any hotter," Heat is tepid and direly lackluster in the thriller department. Pushed by its studio as a career comeback for Reynolds after his de-habilitating mouth injury from a stunt-gone-wrong during the making of 1984's City Heat, and the considerable failure of his studio-interfered-with 1985 adaptation of best-selling author Elmore Leonard's Stick, Heat was plagued by a most tumultuous production trouble: Reynolds coming to a literal blow with director R.M. Richards on the set -- he punched him out, which wound up costing him somewhere in the high six figures in a lawsuit settlement. Richards was then replaced by Jerry Jameson. When in the production stage Jameson took over, I don't know, but based on Richards' mediocre previous films -- the serial-killer tale Death Valley and the domestic drama Man, Woman and Child -- it couldn't have been a moment too soon; then again, Jameson, based on his previous resume of twenty years of TV work up to this point including Magnum P.I. and Murder, She Wrote, isn't exactly the first person one would think of to helm a big-screen Burt Reynolds star vehicle. Be that as it may, the action sequences are atrociously staged and edited in their Peckinpah-wannabe usage of both slow motion and freeze framing; at one point, even, Nick side-throws two gold round discs from his necklace at an armed assailant, knocking the man back and over a chair. And the second-to-last showdown, consisting of a foot chase through a construction site and Nick (or, to be more blunt, Reynolds' obvious stunt double) taking out DeMarco's henchman with everything ranging from cinder blocks to a metal-rod spear to a smashed light bulb igniting a gasoline-soaked body, is prolonged and the stuff of considerable high-camp value.

Yet, miraculously, in between the beatings and butchering, there's a worthwhile story being told with a relaxed, emotional receptiveness that affords the audience the rare pleasure of watching two immensely interesting central characters interestingly talking and interacting with one another. Cyrus, it's revealed, has an ulterior motive for seeking out Nick: He wants to learn how to fight, and not out of a machismo-fueled desire, but simply because he doesn't want to be a "guy with a sign on his back." When Nick tutors him, he amusingly doesn't go at it with a hands-off approach -- he administers little pops and slaps, convincing his pupil that, as much as these may temporarily hurt, he isn't really hurt. MacNichol, who gave a marvelously inventive performance as the weirdly-accented museum curator in Ghostbusters II, takes what could have been a walking cliche -- that of a wuss who learns through tough-guy instruction not to be a wuss -- and creates an original character whose every line, every motion speaks expressive volumes. He makes a good counterpart to Reynolds, who comes through with an uncommonly nuanced, heartfelt interpretation that emphasizes the man rather than the macho. As is also revealed, it's not Cyrus who's a compulsive gambler, but Nick. When he's given ten-thousand dollars for aiding Holly and his dormant fever pitch awakens, he goes to a casino, starts out cautiously at the blackjack table, racks up a hundred-thousand, and soon thereafter loses it all. Rather than pushing the scene for pathos, Reynolds underplays the scene masterfully; he manages to suggest a lifetime of disappointment and regret without ever italicizing it. In a particularly startling moment, when a friendly card-dealer acquaintance advises him to go home while he's ahead, Reynolds makes it hurt when he replies, almost helplessly, "I can't."

When Heat concentrates on the Nick/Cyrus relationship, it's superb, well-observed stuff, but the screenplay by the vastly overpraised William Goldman (based on his same-name novel) is wobbly in tone and structure. The character-study scenes decidedly clash with the thriller ones, as if they were of two different films and a drunk projectionist mixed the reels together, making Heat quite the anomaly among Hollywood films of this genre in that the character base exponentially betters the action. And the narrative lurches forth in fits and starts, introducing other initially interesting supporting characters like Howard Hessmen's wisecracking lawyer and Joseph Mascolo's kindly Vegas mobster without giving them proper screen-time due. (Robert Altman -- who, believe it or not, was originally signed to direct yet succeeded in withdrawing due to an obscure contractual loophole -- could have deftly segued the story better.) Nevertheless, there's a good amount here to enjoy. For every bit of bum dialogue ("The only thing I know is I give good divorce") there's the occasional priceless one ("The showgirls have mustaches and the waitresses can rip the phone book in half"); for every lunkheaded casting choice like ex-New York Jets defensive end Joe Klecko as a thug (munching on a drumstick and watching cartoons, no less!), there's a dead-on one like the talented Diana Scarwid as that friendly card dealer; for every groan-inducing Mexican slur from Goldman's usually-insensitive pen, there's an unexpected payoff like when an unarmed Nick succeeds in goading an armed assailant into committing suicide ("Do you know how long it's going to take to die? Think in days). Most of all, it's got the magical acting of Reynolds and MacNichol, especially Reynolds'. As he's proven in first-rate films like Sharky's Machine and Breaking In, he can be a first-rate actor; but even in trashy ones like Malone and Physical Evidence he can still deliver the goods. He's, thankfully, not an actor only as good as the material.

Unfortunately, this box-office bomb didn't ignite Reynolds' suffering career in the latter half of the '80s, but it's still worth a look.

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originally posted: 01/04/05 04:44:48
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User Comments

5/20/06 mr.mike low rent burt , but definitely has its moments 4 stars
2/12/05 J. Elaine Greenup Pretty good 4 stars
2/05/05 Carolyn Rathburn I was not that impressed, guess gangster type movies are not for me. 3 stars
1/14/05 Al Guy Great as a drama. 4 stars
1/06/05 Lucas Jack is right 3 stars
1/12/04 Sugarfoot Outta be renamed "Hoot".... 1 stars
10/25/03 Carl Tickner U need to be a big fan of Burt Reynolds. 3 stars
2/03/03 Charles Tatum Goldman proves he can write crap just as well as the others 1 stars
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  02-Mar-1987 (R)



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