Red Heat: 1988
What a time it was to be a child who loved movies. Nearly every week a new action film you had never seen was released to videocassette for your home viewing pleasure. Think about all the films you were too young to see in the theater but the world opened up to you when you went to the video store. You could rent any film and be transported into a magical world where Russian cops teamed up with crazy Chicago policemen causing havoc in a city so close to you as an eight year old you thought you could even hear the shattering glass and feel the explosions.
I always thought Red Heat was one of the greatest Arnold Schwarzenegger movies ever made. Certainly his most underrated, but also his realest film. No sci-fi, no all out war pitting him against the entire army of a fictional Central American* country , no CGI alligators, instead, a straight cop-buddy genre film. Of course, this doesn’t mean there’s not myriad opportunity for action, brutality, chases, shooting, amazing punch sound effects, and naked people fighting in the Russian snow.
The film opens in Russia. This is obvious because the first shot of the film is a Russian steeple. In fact, it could be the Kremlin, but it would seem odd that bathhouse we’re in (no homo) would be so close to the Kremlin. Anyway, there are like a million dudes working out and lifting weights and steam everywhere. A man shovels wood into the fire. Enter Arnold. He wears a towel with a key tied to a string. Is this key for his locker, or does this key tell us, “in this film keys are going to be important, particularly a small red key to a locker at a bus station in Chicago, and we the filmmakers want to hammer home this image of a key so you know to pay attention when we show you the red key later?”
Arnold walks over to a shady looking bearded man clearly from Russian’s outer provinces. The Mongolian says “you do not have hands of a man who works in a factory. Heat, you should know heat if you know factory.” The Mongolian’s henchman (who looks a lot like Zangief) takes a rock from the fire and puts it in Arnold’s palm. Arnold doesn’t flinch. Is it because he has hands of a man who has actually worked in a factory? Or is it because he is an UNDERCOVER RUSSIAN COP TRYING TO BUST SOME LOWLIFE DRUG DEALERS WHO ARE BRINGING THE AMERICAN POISON INTO HIS COUNTRY AND IN TWO YEARS THE PLACE WILL LOOK LIKE MIAMI?
The latter. Arnold takes the stone, makes a fist around it, and punches the Mongolian so hard he flies out the window into the Russian snow. Arnold leaps out the window and pummels him and Zangief till they tell him the whereabouts of Victor Rosta aka, Mr. Miami.
Arnold and his partner drive to find Rosta. On the way there, they talk about how they are both circumcised. They find Rosta in a café, which could just be, the most Russian café I’ve ever seen in my whole entire life. There’s a large fat, bearded, glasses-wearing, Lenin-looking man playing a Russian dirge on the piano. People are smoking , drinking vodka, and talking about revolution. Everyone in there wears traditional dress. Except a table of some low-life hooligans. There’s a girl with them with crazy dyed hair, a Russian punk rocker. Lowlife, useless, no better than a common whore. There’s a guy next to her with a mullet. Degenerate, lazy, no way does he have factory hands able to withstand the intense heat of a smoldering rock. But in the middle, there sits Victor Rosta, wearing a white trench coat that would make Cam’rom blush. “Why do you pick on us Georgians? We are such a simple people,” asks Rosta. Arnold isn’t buying it. I pick on you because you sell drugs, the American poison and soon you will make my whole country look like Miami, and by soon I mean exactly two years is what Arnold thinks.
But instead of saying it out loud, he picks up Mr. Mullet, throws him through the air, grabs his leg, TWISTS IT AND BREAKS IT OFF, holds it upside down and drugs just pour out of this leg, I mean just pour. Rosta runs, hella cops chase him, and Arnold’s partner is about to put cuffs on him when Rosta pulls a gun from his sleeve and shoots him. Dead.
He flees to America and meets up with a black dude in a phone booth who gives him half a torn $100 (which confused me when I was 8) and tells him to come back at 3 with it and all will be good. Here’s the problem: Jim Belushi, aka Chicago’s craziest cop, is on a stakeout with Laurence Fishborne outside of phone booth guy's apartment. As they go up to arrest him, and after a crazy shotgun using action scene, we find out this guy is a “cleanhead,” a member of a drug dealing, head shaving, prison gang, and he looks like a Chicago Bear whose poor performance once cost Belushi money.
Rosta goes back to the phone both but can’t get his drugs because the cleanhead was arrested. OY!
Back in Russia, Arnold learns, Rosta’s been picked up for a traffic violation and is sitting at county jail. Thing is, Arnold learns this via a fax message in Russian that is not subtitled, he and his fellow officers have a few conversations about how he’s going to America to grab Rosta, in Russian, but we never actually see Rosta getting picked up for a traffic stop. The viewer must use his intelligence and imagination to picture how what is talked matters, and how it must look. Which is awesome to do, but again, as an eight-year old, I want unable to read facsimiled Russian, and what did I care of expository scenes spoken in Russian? I was a little confused that he had been arrested.
Arnold is given instructions to go to America and bring Rosta back but no to tell them about Rosta and his dangers to the world. He lands at O’hare and already, Belushi doesn’t take too kindly to him. He wants him to hurry up and leave the airport because “I’m parked in a red zone….No offense!” Yeah, you could say the zingers never stop. And even if Belushi isn’t too welcoming, Arnold’s not exactly excited to be in Chicago and have his tour guide show him around. I mean he’s not hungry, he’s not thirsty, he has no interest in talking about his flight. We do get a small conversation about the weather.
“Nothing hotter than Chicago in the summer.”
Belushi: It’s because of the humidity in the air. Humidity means moisture. Is it hot in Moscow?
Arnold: Yes. No moisture.
I think this was when and why I’ve always thought that if you want to be funny, you have to use the word moisture. Moisture.
Arnold insists on being taken to the same hotel Rosta slept at, he checks in and we learn neither he nor Rosta are Russian, they are both in fact Soviets. The next day they take Rosta out of jail and to the airport. They see he has a little red key but Rosta won’t tell them what it opens. And when Belushi asks, Rosta tells him, via Arnold’s translation “go and kiss your mother’s behind.” Belushi is furious. On the way to the airport, the cleanheads come, knock Arnold in the head, shoot the place up, and Belushi comes to the rescue. Rosta drops the key, Arnold grabs it.
Arnold decides to go undercover to find Rosta, even if he looks like Gumby. They meet with a pimp to try and get some info, and Belushi tells him about the Miranda rights and how it means, “you can’t even touch his ass.” Arnold is shocked “I do not want to touch his ass, I only want to make him talk.” MOISTURE. Arnold winds up breaking his fingers and finds out the shipment is coming in a few days and the deal is being brokered by a the head cleanhead at Joliet.
Arnold and Belushi go to Joliet to meet with the head of the cleanheads who gives Arnold a whole what have you about how he’s in jail because he’s a political prisoner and he sells drugs to the white man and Arnold is not having it one bit at all. We’ve seen how little patience he has when you call him an anti-Georgian. A racist? He doesn’t even want to hear it, he doesn’t even want to know about it! Arnold tells him if he thinks dealing drugs is political he needs to check himself, because “in my country, we are not like American police. You ship drugs to my country you wake up and find your testicles floating in a jar or water next to your bed.” Damn
They decide to go after Rosta’s girlfriend (Gina Gershon) who teaches a dance class in the flatiron building in Wicker Park, and this is even before Filter was there, so we’re talking like the 1920’s at least. Looks like swank frank was there though but the bodega was some bakery, and that shoe store for the ladies, no way. Not once, not never. Basically, I think aside from Shadi** who owns Sultan’s and grew up there, after seeing this shit, I don’t ever want to hear about how much Wicker Park has changed and how it used to be when this was here and that was there. Man,
Question? Is having a pet parakeet feminine? Arnold doesn’t think so, and Belushi wants him to know he agrees, not feminine at all. Belushi doesn’t like how the meeting went with Gershon and exclaims “I’m gonna bust that bitch so hard she bounces.” Moisture!
Meanwhile someone tries to fuck with Arnold about where he parked ("gimme ten dollars before I fucking mutilate your car" if you want the exact quote, I'm telling you Wicker Park used to be so much cooler. Violence! People who dressed like hipsters because they were actually homeless! And this was before it got "cool") and Arnold asks the man if he knows Miranda. “Never heard of the bitch the man replies.” Arnold knocks him out cold.
They find out what the key opens, they go to the greyhound station, there’s a big shoot out and bus chase and then Arnold kills Rosta.
Is Red Heat awesome, is it still a classic? Yes. In the 80’s cop buddy films were all the rage, first they teamed black cops with white cops, then actors researching a role with cops, then cops from foreign countries with American cops, the cops with animals, which sucked. Belushi and Arnold had such chemistry , you wished they made a sequel to this one, maybe putting Belushi in Moscow in one of those fur hats. But we're stuck with one, and it's golden. After all, Chicago’s craziest cop and Moscow’s toughest detective. You know the only thing worse than making them mad? Making them partners.
*Trivia: The fictional Central American country Arnold goes to in Commando is in fact the same fictional Central American country General Ramon Esperanza is extradited from in Die Hard 2.
**One time I was at Sultan’s, eating and talking to Shadi, yeah we’re tight, and we talked about how some Walgreens was opening up and I said, yeah, that kinda sucks. And he said, dude, I was born in a refugee camp in Jordan and that shit was safer than Wicker Park was when we got here. You’d much rather have that than a crackhead on the corner. I had been pummeled by truth, yet found much solace in our cross-cultural friendship.