You look like Gumby
Peak Arnold Schwarzenegger walks into a Russian bath house. (Stop me if you’ve heard this one). Covered only by a loin cloth, the former Mr. Universe is on full display. There are bodybuilders and naked flesh everywhere. But Arnold’s Ivan Danko proceeds undistracted. He wants drug dealer Viktor Rosta (Ed O’Ross) and will stop at nothing to find him. And from the immediate outset of this introductory sequence, viewers of the 4K UHD will recognize that this is one of those films which look absolutely fantastic in this format… to such a degree as to change the game on Red Heat.
Never quite ranking among my favorite Walter Hill films, I’ve nevertheless always enjoyed Red Heat for what it is. Walter Hill is buddy cop action comedy royalty, and Red Heat delivers the requisite ingredients of that formula quite well. Arnold is the key reason the film stands out from the pack, but ultimately this 4K transfer of the film really does give a greater appreciation for what’s going on in Red Heat. It’s a fantastic viewing experience. There’s still a filmic feel to the movie, with plenty of grain, and it turns out that top-of-his-game Arnold Schwarzenegger is exactly the right showcase for what the 4K UHD format is capable of.
With a story and partial writing credit going to Walter Hill, as well as a producer credit (on top of directing), I’d say Red Heat is a Walter Hill film through and through. It’s a basic script, but a tight one. It doesn’t seem anyone involved was reaching for more than a buddy cop action comedy that played fast and loose with Russian/US relations. Arnold’s Danko is indeed a Soviet “fish out of water” in 1988 America in the midst of the Cold War. Beyond that, however, the film doesn’t really get very political. Danko is Terminator-lite, an unstoppable soldier with an inalterable directive to get his man. But since he’s not a futuristic robot, he’ll need some help nativating Chicago, and Jim Belushi’s Art Ridzik is the red-blooded American stuck with the job of assisting Danko. They clash, they break open the case, they get each others’ backs, and they eventually put aside their differences to save the day. It fits the buddy cop formula to a T. This is probably why it’s never quite ranked among my favorite Walter Hill films. It’s of a kind, and while it’s a strong entry to a sub-genre, it always felt somewhat unremarkable.
And yet, on this viewing the film really increased in my estimation. The mind-blowing transfer gave me an appreciation of the sheer aesthetics of the film. Cinematographer Matthew Leonetti had done Commando with Arnold and Extreme Prejudice with Hill prior to shooting this film, and does some really fine work here. The snowy set piece early on and straight through to the huge action finale with duelling buses just really look fantastic and hold up extremely well today. Then you’ve got the great James Horner’s score. Horner also did the iconic score for Commando, and perhaps this one just has enough shades of that action score that it really made an impact for me on this viewing.
Red Heat is also one of those movies where at least half a dozen of the headlining cast members are real name actors who went on to long careers and that kind of thing just feels exciting sometimes. You’ve got Laurence Fishburne as the ball-busting co-worker who kind of hates Ridzik. Peter Boyle is the angry police chief who needs an antacid thanks to Danko and Ridzik’s shenanigans. The previously mentioned O’Ross turns in such a great villain performance as Rosta that people just assumed the American actor was actually Russian for years afterwards. Even the fantastic Gina Gershon shows up for a relatively thankless role that’s also, unfortunately, the only role for a female to be found in this testosterone-fest. It’s a really full ensemble that elevates the whole endeavor.
But ultimately it comes down to the action, and damn if that doesn’t also really sell Red Heat as more of a classic than it gets credit for. First off, Rosta is a villain you really want to see get caught. And, he’s got one of those spring-loaded pistols that can pop out of his sleeve at any point. Those things rule. But Arnold’s introductory sequence in the bathhouse is a stellar action set piece, and the mega-sized bus-chicken car chase / final showdown is simply unhinged 1980s action filmmaking excessive glory at its finest. It’s a show-stopper worthy of reconsideration in the car chase cannon.
While Red Heat still isn’t either Arnold or Walter Hill’s best work, it’s a fantastic ride and a slick late-80s Hollywood product. And the 4K UHD re-release gives the film a new lease on life that not every 4K scan does. UHD fanatics or Arnold / Walter Hill fans will really want to seek this disc out.
By a significant margin, the key reason to purchase this disc is the 4K UHD scan of Red Heat. The 4K UHD experience has been fairly hit or miss for me, and the aesthetic is quite subjective, but I felt this title looked absolutely fantastic.
Lionsgate has really been cranking out a lot of catalog titles on 4K and I’m not mad about it. That said, this isn’t some kind of deluxe treatment in terms of bonus features. Big fans of the film will find a variety of featurettes here, but it appears they’re all recycled from previous home video releases of Red Heat. At least they’re included and ported over from past releases instead of done away with entirely. 4K and Arnold enthusiasts will be pleased with this disc, but if you’ve already got a Blu-ray your mileage may vary on if you want to double dip for the 4K.
And I’m Out.
Red Heat is now available in 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, & Digital combo pack from Lionsgate Home Video.