Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Dead Heat (1988)

... the plot involves Mortis getting turned into a zombie early doors and motoring around Santa Monica in a soft-top Caddy with Doug and some blonde doxy they’ve picked up til it’s time for a bonkers shoot out in a disused warehouse - we think you know the drill by now...

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Dead Heat (1988, Mark Goldblatt)

Starring: Treat Williams, Joe Piscopo, Vincent Price, Lindsay Frost, Darren McGavin, Robert Picardo, Professor Toru Tanaka.

Tagline: ‘These cops are on the biggest murder case of their lives… their own.’

Trailers: 18 Again, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, Slugs, The Gunrunner, Return of the Killer Tomatoes!
Cherrypick: “Zombie duck-heads – these could replace the Whoopee Cushion!”

Still nursing the hangover from a Sixties that proved the eternal virtue of the ancient Chinese curse ‘May you live in interesting times’, wary Seventies moviegoers had sought some semblance of self-examination from their silver screen cops. By the Eighties, however, those very same film fans had had enough of Serpico's hippy-dippy introspection and the windswept ruminations of morose motorcycle cop outing Electra Glide in Blue. With renewed suspicion at the machinations of their Cold War enemy and the personal and civic rewards of a newly prosperous economy to be safeguarded, upwardly mobile Eighties viewers had no use for funky fuzz with flowers in their freak flags; they now felt the need to be protected and served by the unquestioning, unflinching loyalty of something that either rolled off an assembly line or was plucked from the very realm of the undead. In other words, cyborgs or zombies.
Hot fuzz
Not that amassing such a cold-blooded constabulary would be all plain sailing. Teething troubles with bionic prototypes and the instability of reanimated tissue would lead filmmakers down more than a few blind alleys in search of that perfect policeman. The Terminator was indeed rock hard and technically in the employ of the state, but ultimately hailed from an undiscovered future; Robocop looked like he might be the answer until an all-too-human does-not-compute crisis of confidence flushed out his programming; and Maniac Cop - though undoubtedly committed - unfortunately turned out to be a bit of a maniac. And then, just as the decade was putting the chairs on the tables, the ERH lab boys bellied up to the bar, knocked back the contents of the drip-tray and took one last roll of the dice with what can only be described as Dead Heat.

Square-jawed square Treat Williams – designer suit, hair so sharp it could peel an atom – undertakes the role of the in-no-way-ominously-monickered Roger Mortis. With his lubricious people skills, a college degree and some seriously upscale connections, Mortis represents the new breed of policeman – the cop as executive, as facilitator, as self-reliant municipal assistance node – demanded by a freshly corporate America.

Straight from his reading of Moe Dickstein (no lie) in best-forgotten Brian De Palma gangster comedy Wise Guys, purported funnyman Joe Piscopo – fake leather jacket, a mullet that cascades half-way down his back – proves that humour is no respecter of either side of the law by fleshing out Roger’s lunkheaded partner Doug Bigelow. A little more old-school in his approach to policework, Doug is a gold medal sexist and bigoted loudmouth with a chronic steroid abuse problem, but together he and Roger make for One Hell Of A Team!
Dickstein & Mortis
While brother Shane was off in Grown-Up Hollywood penning the script to Mel Gibson’s suicidal flatfoot action-comedy, Lethal Weapon, DH scriptwriter Terry Black here set himself the task of taking the mismatched cop genre into the next (bio)logical life-phase – the sweet hereafter. It’s a snappy conceit - albeit one that you sense sprang from the smart title than any overriding storytelling imperative – but one that is swiftly and unalterably hamstrung by a complete absence of wit, action, thrills, chills or T&A.

The plot involves Mortis getting turned into a zombie early doors and motoring around Santa Monica in a soft-top Caddy with Doug and some blonde doxy they’ve picked up til it’s time for a bonkers shoot out in a disused warehouse - we think you know the drill by now. The video case claims this all takes 80 minutes, but the timer on our trusty old Ferguson Videostar (red with customised ‘Starsky and Hutch’ lightning bolts) topped out at 67 to no complaint from us. If you want to know more than that then you’ll just have to watch the wretched thing yourselves.
Homer Simpson's favourite comedian. Fact.
The cast hardly helps matters: Williams proffers a comedic persona which is indistinguishable from the one-note boiling-point psychotics he perfected in tense cop drama Prince of the City and Spielberg’s Pearl Harbour chuckle-blitz 1941, but he’s Groucho Marx compared to ‘Saturday Night Live’ stalwart Piscopo, who spends the whole movie fitfully meandering in and out of shot with the boggling eyes, spacey demeanour and occasional aimless interjection of someone who’s had his creatine-shake spiked with horse tranquiliser. He may as well be speaking Farsi for all he adds to the proceedings.

In the same way that Robert De Niro/Charles Grodin road movie Midnight Run proved that you could take the dubious shopworn remainder of two guys on the run from the cops, Feds and Mafia and go on to make a real gem of film, raucous Eddie Murphy/Nick Nolte wing-ding 48 HRS attests to the fact that nothing is funnier than two disparate dudes driving around town in an beat-up convertible shouting at each other. Quite how these two staples are so consistently ballsed up is, quite frankly, beyond us, but - at least as far as Dead Heat’s failings are concerned - we’ll just echo the thoughts and feelings of Doug and Roger’s equally exasperated Captain; “That was the stupidest, craziest, most dumbfuckiest stunt I ever saw!”


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