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Thursday, 9 March 2017

Retro Review: Dead Heat (1988)

Dead Heat
Cast: Treat Williams, Joe Piscopo, Vincent Price 
Genre: Action Comedy Horror
U.S Box Office Gross: over $3.5 million

Plot: When a dutiful Los Angeles police officer named Roger Mortis tries to apprehend robbers that happen to be zombies, he ends up as one of the undead himself. Since Roger has managed to stay in his right frame of mind, he aids his loudmouthed partner, Doug Bigelow in getting to the bottom of the macabre crime ring. Eventually, the cops track down the villains, including Arthur P. Loudermilk and try to end their supernatural thievery

'Fun Buddy Cop Meets Dawn of the Dead Fusion Flick'

The buddy cop action comedy boom of the 1980s heralded a new arrival in the movie front, due to the success of 48 Hrs starring Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte, its formula just showed how the combination of humour with kick-ass action can be a recipe for success. Yet following on from 48 Hrs were movies like Lethal Weapon, which was very similar to 48 Hrs with the partners in crime concept. You have upper-tier films in 48 Hrs, Lethal Weapon, Bad Boys, Rush Hour and then you have mid-range efforts in Running Scared, Tango & Cash, Red Heat. Dead Heat fares below those movies, in terms of being more obscure, and yet, still it provides plenty of solid action, entertainment and fun.

Dead Heat is an innocuous, intriguing yet inventive B-movie action fodder offering and one that is very underrated and worth taking a look. It also helps bring in much-needed invigoration to the genre by also mixing in elements of horror films. Equal parts comedy, action and horror, all that and as importantly, it is a fun little oddball-ish title. But oddball-ish that also that has that cool factor and uniqueness that makes it far less campy. The dialogue is amusing at times and entertaining to boot. And though a lot of people will see this and say the acting is very hammy and bad, I actually thought it was good, although I couldn't choose between Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo as my favourite performance out of the two.

Dead Heat is Lethal Weapon meets Dawn of the Dead and this is a combination that works so well. The special effects are sound and gory, yet there is a comical and fun feel to it that makes it entertaining to look at as well from a visual standpoint. 

Los Angeles cops, Mortis (Treat Williams) and Bigelow (Saturday Night Live 's Joe Piscopo) are investigating a spate of thieves, who attack their victims in broad daylight. They then come across criminals, who won't go down easily and they go to track down the scientific lab that contains a machine, with Mortis falling victim to it during a massive shootout and he is killed - only to come back to life as a zombie himself! Alas, the heralding of the birth of zombie cop! Mortis only has 12 hours to solve the case, alongside Bigelow. As time wears on, his skin starts to rot and fall apart. 

The leads in Williams and Piscopo are great onscreen, with muscle-bound Piscopo's one-liners as Doug and at times, fun-loving side and Williams's cool, yet serious nature as Roger, who is all business. Together, they take their roles seriously and go about capturing the main villain, played by Vincent Price. On paper, one look at their names & s/he would assume that this idea wouldn't work with a serious actor in Williams and comedic actor in Piscopo cast together. But as I got into the movie more, the more I bought into the Williams and Piscopo onscreen partnership, and it worked like a charm. Some may find Piscopo grating here, but I found him to be all right. 

The 1980s and to some extent the 1990s were the decades where for filmmakers and directors, anything goes: that no matter how daft or obscene the idea may be, onscreen when it all came together, it just felt like those creative risks were worth taking and as a result, the payoff is sweet. Movies like Dead Heat and Big Trouble In Little China are two examples that I can think of, at the top of my head. Dead Heat reminds me in a way to Big Trouble in Little China: both films are action-based films with horror elements infused into them, both incorporate humour, both have likeable and humourous protagonists in Jack Burton and Doug Bigelow. Both are cult action comedies that don't take themselves too seriously. And like Big Trouble in Little China, there is a scene that takes place in a shop in Chinatown. The fight scene in a Chinese restaurant where the guys try to fight off dead animals and a massive chicken without a head is a highlight of Dead Heat.

The premise and ideas as ridiculous as they may be means the film doesn't go too over the top that it becomes silly and daft and knowingly plays to the audience, as to say 'this is nuts, but we're having fun with it'. And that is what it makes it tick for me. 

Final Verdict:

Dead Heat is a film that works well as it does and though some things may not make a lot of sense, it has enough good content to maintain its entertainment factor. 

Action comedy film at heart and horror that treads on Big Trouble In Little China's out of this world fantasy-like feel, I thoroughly enjoyed this effort. I so wished they had made and released a sequel in the 1990s with Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo reprising their roles. I'd be so up for that. 

It may be an acquired taste for a lot of people and can be cheesy, but for those of you who enjoy action comedies and horror genre films, and yet lean more towards the former, Dead Heat is definitely worth seeing.

*Score updated: April 12, 2017*


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