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Dead Heat (2002)

Reviewed By Scott Weinberg
Posted 04/30/04 09:34:10

"Kiefer salvages a fairly predictable horse racing / crime drama."
3 stars (Average)

After devouring the entire 6-disc set of "24: Season One", I’d had my fill of Kiefer Sutherland for a while. Imagine my surprise when I popped in the "Dead Heat" DVD... and Kiefer’s the star. Ah well, no problem; I’ve always thought that the junior Sutherland was a relatively underrated actor, so I was looking forward to seeing him as someone other than Jack Bauer.

Not to be confused with the movie of the same name starring Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo, this Dead Heat features Kiefer as a sad-sack former police detective Pally, a likeable sort who was forced off the job due to a bum ticker. Newly unemployed and struggling to salvage a relationship with his estranged wife, Pally is in desperate need of a change. When his brother Ray hatches a plan to purchase a promising young racehorse, Pally reluctantly joins in.

But in order for the guys to make some coin on the horse, they’ll need a serviceable jockey. Enter Tony, an English idiot who’s as comfortable with horses as he is a degenerate gambler. Though Tony and the horse seem like a winning combination, it’s the jockey’s massive debt to a local crime boss that does the enterprising brothers in. When Ray and Pally’s horse is stolen after only one race, they head off to steal the darn thing back.

Various ‘crime flick’ complications ensue, though they’re delivered a bit more deftly than in most other straight-to-video affairs. The highlight of the film comes in the form of a bruised and tentative relationship between Pally and the soon-to-be ex-wife Charlotte. Sutherland and fine Aussie actress Radha Mitchell consistently transcend the script’s somewhat pedestrian thruways, and one wishes the movie offered more moments between the two. Faring not as well is a belabored subplot involving Tony and his motherless moppet, though it’s not obnoxious enough a diversion to sink the movie.

Writer/director Mark Malone chimes in with a dry and intermittent audio commentary, though I can’t see there being too much demand for any ‘behind-the-scenes anecdotes’ as far as Dead Heat is concerned. The movie was three times better than I thought it would be, though (considering how disposable most straight-to-video flicks are) that still only equals out to a ‘so-so’ recommendation.

Fairly predictable and completely forgettable (featuring a rather ridiculous finale involving an orchestrated stampede of horses), Dead Heat earns points solely because it’s less stupid and more entertaining than many of its video-store fodder ilk.

Catch it on cable late one night, enjoy the performances of Sutherland and Mitchell, and then move on to something a bit better.

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