Monday, 7 February 2011

City Heat (1984)

...nonsensical, big-budget Kansas City jazz that finally consigned the term ‘Comedy-Thriller’ to that of an oxymoron...

City Heat (1984, Richard Benjamin)

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds, Richard Roundtree, Irene Cara, Rip Torn, Harry Demopoulos M.D.

Box Notables: 'SKEETER'S VIDEO, 222 E. Railroad Ave., Crystal Springs, MS 39059, Tel. (601) 892-6379' sticker.

Tagline: ‘When a hotshot cop and a wise-guy detective get together…the heat is on!’

Trailers: Pale Rider (odd stills-and-voice-over-only arrangement). Notable lack of commensurate Burt vehicle...
Cherrypick: Needle in a haystack time.

Proving that the big boys could make just as much of a balls up of things as the knuckle-headed 2nd Assistant Directors with scripts by their pool cleaners’ therapists that represent the talent behind most of the more canonical ERH entries, 1984 saw tough-guy funnyman Burt Reynolds and squinty gunslinger Clint Eastwood pumping out this nonsensical, big-budget Kansas City jazz that finally consigned the term ‘Comedy-Thriller’ to that of an oxymoron.
Backlot bonfire
Theis Harlem Whites attempts to usher us back to an age of lavish production values, star power and good old-fashioned story telling, but what comes out the other end is the pitiless spectacle of two old codgers with faces like tan Naugahyde summarily lost in a maze of plot canyons and filmed through the mouldy lens of a proto US ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’*.

Clint’s stony-faced cop and Burt’s sharp-assed, wise-dressing P.I. will proceed to plod turbidly from place to place on a permanently rain-washed backlot set inherited from an Earth-based time-travel episode of ‘Star Trek’ in search of some-fucking-thing or other for as long as cast or viewer can resist the miasmatic boredom coiling around them. The filmmakers’ implication soon becomes obvious: You will watch anything we put out. The inference is as meekly damning as it is as abundantly clear: Yes. We will.
Sharp-dressed men
One can almost, during the films many lulls, hear the stars’ agents hastily arranging meetings with John Candy and Rick Moranis, and the Kerching! of their advisors moving into ‘Colombian junk bonds’, while tyro directors like John Landis, Harold Ramis and John Hughes grunted and whooped their way through a parallel eighties orgy of coke, cash and clusterfucks. Let the good times roll? Fellas, the train has already left the station.

With both stars high on the success of their respective blue-collar monkey-wrangler and good ole boy-racer personas, the decision for these redneck Romeos to move away from their cracker comfort zone may initially appear perverse but, as Reynolds points out in his autobiography, ‘Burt Rising’, “The hillbilly with a heart of gold was getting stale. How many times can you jump a Trans Am over a courthouse? The world was changing.” Eastwood was characteristically less outspoken, but in a short interview given to Handgun magazine during the making of the film, he tellingly used the phrase “Taking out the trash” no less than twenty three times…
Adult Action!
When, for the film’s set piece finale, Clint dons a tuxedo ten sizes too small for him and Burt bedecks himself in a nightdress, bonnet and wolf mask to raid a brothel to for no readily discernable reason, it is clear that laudable though this change of direction may have first sounded, any and all such highfalutin’ ideals have been all too swiftly abandoned. 

With lesser lights such as Roy Scheider rattling the window-frames of L.A. with his Blue Thunder and Tom Selleck busy prepping his futuristic robot-spider flick Runaway over at Fox, it must have been especially galling for Eastwood to limp back to his Nazi revenge Westerns and for Reynolds to climb back into that Pontiac one last time for Smokey Joins the Bandits, but - as ‘Dirty’ Harry Callaghan was all too fond of reminding us - a man should know his limitations.

*Note for American readers: Imagine a fusty, idea-neutral, sepia-toned Back to the Future midweek TV laxative made by southpaw chimps.

Originally published in Little White Lies#19

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