Wednesday, February 8, 2012

If This Wasn't Streaming On Netflix, Would Anyone Remember It Existed? Vol. 5: HEAT (1987)

(US - 1987)

Directed by R.M. Richards (Dick Richards, Jerry Jameson, Robert Altman).  Written by William Goldman.  Cast: Burt Reynolds, Karen Young, Peter MacNicol, Neill Barry, Howard Hesseman, Diana Scarwid. (R, 102 mins)

This review was originally published in a slightly different form on the Mobius Home Video Forum in April 2011

It was announced today that Brian De Palma was teaming up with star Jason Statham for a remake of this until-now forgotten Burt Reynolds vehicle that had a very troubled production, going through three directors, one of whom had an on-set altercation with the star. The film, scripted by Oscar winner William Goldman (BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN) was started by Robert Altman, who left after a day of shooting. He was replaced by TOOTSIE producer Dick Richards, who helmed most of the film (and got his ass kicked by Burt), then veteran TV director Jerry Jameson was brought in to finish it. Richards gets sole credit, under the name "R.M. Richards." To date, he has not directed or produced another film.

Made at a time when Reynolds was seeing his popularity dwindle and his critics grow increasingly hostile, the disjointed HEAT never had much of a chance. I rented it back in '87 or '88 and was bored silly by it, but looking at it again with fresh eyes, it's a noble misfire. This is actually one of Burt's better 1980s performances, finding him in low-key, melancholy SHARKY'S MACHINE mode as Las Vegas "chaperone" Nick "Mex" Escalante, a tough-guy for hire who dreams of leaving the Vegas sleaze behind and getting away to Venice. The episodic plot has Mex helping his prostitute friend Holly (Karen Young) get revenge on a mob-connected twerp (Neill Barry) after he beats and rapes her and sodomizes her with a gun. Then Mex meets up with a young software-industry millionaire (Peter MacNicol) who wants lessons in how to be tough. There's not a whole lot here in the way of plot, and indeed, it's more of a character study. But that's not what anyone wanted out of Reynolds in the 1980s, and the extensive reshooting is obvious. There's a couple of badly-assembled slo-mo action scenes that seem totally out of place, and Reynolds sports no less than four distinctly different hairpieces throughout the film. In one scene, he'll have a flatter, "serious" toupee (© Marty McKee at Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot), then he'll have the curlier CANNONBALL RUN one, and a couple of other slight variants throughout (but none on the MALONE bouffant level). It's also interesting to note that the film opens with Burt fighting with a guy in a bar, as Burt rips off the guy's rug and mockingly pets it, which is actually pretty hilarious.

HEAT isn't a very cohesive film and its behind-the-scenes issues are all too apparent. But it does have a good Burt Reynolds performance at its core, and, with the passing of a couple of decades, it seems to play a lot better now that one can view it without the baggage of the Reynolds expectations of that era. It's clearly not SHARKY'S MACHINE, but flaws and all, Burt was at least trying here, which is more than one can say for stuff like STROKER ACE and CANNONBALL RUN II. I think he went into this with the intention of it being a change-of-pace character-driven piece. Otherwise, why would a non-action guy like Altman be onboard to direct?   Altman and Burt must've been on good terms by 1992, because Burt's cameo as himself in Altman's comeback film THE PLAYER made reference to HEAT's troubled shoot.

It's also worth noting that the 1.33:1 print streaming on Netflix is an alternate version that features a different outcome for one major character and an additional scene with an uncredited Mickey Knox as a doctor (and Reynolds looks completely different in this added scene; not just his hairpiece, but his moustache is also trimmed differently). It seems this alternate version was released on the budget-priced R1 DVD by Platinum Disc, and is not the version released in US theaters or on the Paramount VHS.

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