I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Heat (1986)

tn_heat-burtI never knew about HEAT until I read that Brian DePalma’s doing a new version with Jason Statham. It started as a book by William Goldman, who also wrote both movie versions. This one stars Burt Reynolds (with mustache) as a likable Vegas low-life-for-hire. We don’t really get an upfront explanation of who he is or where he comes from, but over time we learn that he dreams of moving to Venice, he’s a familiar face to organized crime, he has been extensively profiled in Soldier of Fortune, he’s a gambling addict, and he’s an expert in the use of edged weapons. So much so that the only reason another character can think of for him to use a gun is because nobody would ever believe it was him.

I like the way it seems to go through a couple different stories before you can get a handle on where it’s going. First it’s about him reluctantly helping a prostitute friend (Karen Young) get revenge on a sadistic young mobster (Neill Barry) who beat and raped her. Then there’s a long section about him going on an impossible good luck streak at the casino. Then it’s about a nerdy young software millionaire (Peter MacNicol) hiring him to teach him how to fight. MacNicol is probly better than I’ve ever seen him – he’s kind of funny and kind of embarrassing. I liked him. That’s gonna be hard to cast in the new one.

The mobster is also really well cast too, very convincing as an entitled prick. You fear him for his connections and not his own capabilities. But man you want to see him experience some edged weapons.

mp_heat-burtLike so many Burt roles this is a mix of awesome and laughable. Statham will be more believable with the physical stuff. This movie has Burt (and stunt double) running, nimbly jumping up walls, he even does a Tony Jaa jump-up-and-kick-a-light-out move that starts a carefully planned chain reaction to light a guy on fire. That stuff is goofy, but I like Burt’s grim lack of emotion, even when looking at his friend full of bullets. You know that what the mobster did infuriates him, but he won’t admit it, pretends to be a callous asshole.

The funniest Burt arrogance is in the opening scene where he hits on a woman at a bar. He uses a pool stick to rudely stop her and turn her around. After being rejected he goes back to the bar and snaps to get his drink. Something clean-lip Burt could never do.

But I think there is some seriously good emotion and tension in some parts. The hooker character is really good, so bloodhtirsty, but understandably so. The bloody wound on her mouth never heals, it looks so painful and disgusting and reminds you how we got here. There’s a real sense of dread as the revenge scheme goes down and you want to see these fuckers pay but also fear the inevitable mafia rebuttal.

There’s a similar dread when he’s literally gambling. He seems to have supernatural blackjack powers, but the bigger his collection of chips gets the more you know he’s out of his mind to keep playing. Every time he seems to have called it a day he talks himself into going for more and heads back to the table. My favorite thing in the whole movie is his interaction with a dealer (Diane Scarwid) who knows him by name. There’s kind of a half-assed flirtation, a whiff of real friendship, and idea that his streak puts suspicion on her. But when he stupidly bets everything and loses it all it overwhelms her. The house wins and it’s her that’s left crying.

It only really loses me in the climax where (don’t tell me you don’t know a SPOILER is coming up) he torments the villain from inside his dark apartment, and the guy keeps shooting at different places, guessing his location wrong. What, he can throw his voice? I don’t get it. But then he scares this guy so bad about what he’s gonna do to him that the kid chooses to use his last bullet on himself rather than risk missing! That’s some uniquely badass shit, but unfortunately I don’t really buy it in this movie. Maybe he could make the guy wet himself but I don’t know about commit suicide.

HEAT was the last movie directed by Dick Richards, who only made 7 in his life, including the ’75 version of FAREWELL MY LOVELY starring Robert Mitchum. HEAT does have kind of a TV look to it, and it doesn’t help that the DVD is 4:3. The score is mostly that sleazy detective sax type style, like they would put on a Shannon Tweed movie so they can tell themselves it’s noir. I can see why some people would write it off (ha ha Burt Reynolds) but the sleazy tone, the unorthodox structure and the strong relationships with the prostitute, the blackjack dealer and the software nerd all make it a forgotten gem in my opinion. Also he uses a credit card to slit a guy’s throat.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
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33 Responses to “Heat (1986)”

  1. Sounds good. What really interests me is this:
    “he even does a Tony Jaa jump-up-and-kick-a-light-out move”
    Interesting. Wasn’t the plot of Smoky And The Bandit II about Burt having to take care of an elephant? And he did his own stunts in DELIVERANCE. And the Bandit/Cannonball Run Movies have credits outtakes just like Tony’s do. Shit, Tony Jaa is the Thai Burt Reynolds! He just deflects attention from it by not having a mustache and doing martial arts! By extension, this would make Dirty Balls the Thai Dom DeLuis, wouldn’t it?

  2. DELIVERANCE is such an excellent movie even though it completely ruined the south culturally

  3. sounds interesting and pretty different for william goldman. is statham gonna be playing a quasi-american again in this one, and apparently a latino one to boot (according to the poster the character’s name is nick escalante)? i like statham a lot, and he’s always great physically as an action star, but he is just so much better, more likable, and more charismatic as an actor when he just plays someone from london (guy ritchie movies, ITALIAN JOB, BANK JOB).

    in any case, it’s de palma, so my ass is in the theater.

    also, vern, peter macnicol is better than you’ve ever seen him? you mean better even than in GHOSTBUSTERS 2? because, like, how could that even be scientifically possible?

  4. Been ages since I’ve seen this. My fave bit is when Burt is brought in by the mafia boss because the rapist guy has accused him of shooting one of his men. Rapist dude had assumed he’d be taken at his word, given his status, , but turns out that Burt carries more respect with the boss than he does, and is given time to give his side of the story, which in turn brings even more humiliation on rapist dude. I hope they keep that in the new version.

  5. After all those great 70’s movies with Burt I sort of wrote him off in the 80’s. But looking back, and revisiting some of them, I must admit he never really lost his mojo. In fact, one of his best movies – Sharky’s Machine – came in the early 80’s (before Loni Gate).

  6. Vern, this reminded me of another action/mustache flick from the same era, and this one is sci-fi – RUNAWAY with Tom Selleck. If you want to continue the theme, there ya go. For some reason, that one stays with me.

    Griff – Huh? Please unpack that comment.

  7. I just looked it up and realized that it was written and directed by Michael Crichton. Bizarre.

  8. Traveller – I just felt like saying that while we were on the subject of Burt Reynolds

    also isn’t william goldman the guy that wrote the princess bride?

  9. Some day I’m sure some egghead will invent a way to type “william goldman” into the internet and find out for sure if he was the guy that wrote the princess bride. Until then we can only speculate.

  10. Griff, he wrote the screenplay and the book it was based on (hope I didn’t ruin your joke there, Vern).

  11. Jareth Cutestory

    March 6th, 2012 at 7:58 am

    Every week I contemplate renting SHARKY”S MACHINE, MALONE and STICK at the video store, but pass them over in favor of something else. They’re the sleaziest looking films that aren’t in the porn section of the store. There’s a world of pain between awesome lurid and awful lurid.

    Mostly I just want to be able to say “Detective John Stick” with the viewing experience to back me up.

  12. billydeethrilliams

    March 6th, 2012 at 9:04 am

    Credit card to slit a guy’s throat? That was used in the novel Darwin’s Nightmare, except it had a razor built in to it. Good book.

  13. Jareth, that’s a good trilogy. I recommend watching them in the reverse order you list them.

  14. speaking of tangential comments about burt reynolds in DELIVERANCE… isn’t it kind of amazing that if you had never seen burt reynolds in anything else or knew anything else about him, if you watched DELIVERANCE you would just assume that he was a fantastic, talented actor and general badass (i don’t mean this in any way as an insult to burt reynolds in general)?

  15. Jareth Cutestory

    March 6th, 2012 at 11:44 am

    Thanks pegsman. Your expertise is duly noted.

    Note to self: STICK MALONE in SHARKY’S MACHINE.

    Gary: I feel the exact same way about that time Reynolds played god on THE X-FILES.

  16. But Shamus would be a better choice than Malone.

  17. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    March 8th, 2012 at 4:22 am

    I can’t remember what talkback it was on, but Mr. Majestyk wrote an excellent thesis on Burt with/without moustache. He raised the fact that without the ‘tache, Burt was meaner, letting the eyebrows do the work, and if he had the ‘tache, he was a more of a lovable rogue.

    Is this movie the exception to the rule?

  18. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    March 8th, 2012 at 4:28 am

    Found it. Everyone who considers themselves to be a fan of Burt, with or without a top lip warmer, should read this.

    All credit to Mr. Majestyk. Perhaps it should become Dr. Majestyk?

    When it comes to Burt, you have to break it down into Mustache and No Mustache categories. The difference is night and day.

    No Mustache Burt is a bad motherfucker. He’s an imposing individual with big shoulders and fearsome black eyebrows that he uses to indicate his disapproval of things. He takes no shit, maybe spent some time in jail, and probably used to play football until he hurt his knee.

    Mustache Burt is just a laid-back rascal. He likes to laugh, stick it to the man, drive real fast, and romance ladies who are much smarter than him. He’s still a big dude but he seems slimmer and less imposing with that big hunk of hair drawing all that attention away from his fearsome eyebrows down to his easygoing smile. HOOPER, obviously, is a Mustache Movie.

    No Mustache Burt is a serious actor. Mustache Burt is a comedian. No Mustache Burt is a badass. Mustache Burt is a clown. No Mustache Burt gets by on manly swagger. Mustache Burt lets the stache do all the work.

    The distinction can be seen most easily in WHITE LIGHTNING and its sequel, GATOR. In WL, No Mustache Burt is the baddest motherfuckin’ moonshiner in the South. He breaks out of jail and the screws apologize to him when they catch him. He’s no-nonsense and on a mission of revenge. In GATOR, he’s evolved into Mustache Burt in between movies. He’s now the kind of guy who gets into comical boat races with Jack Walden and has Jerry Reed sing him a theme song with the word “gonads” in it.

    But perhaps the most telling iteration of the Mustache Burt/No Mustache Burt dichotomy is THE LONGEST YARD, in which it is used as a vital plot point. The beginning of the movie is your typical Mustache Burt fare. He’s having a good ol’ time, getting into a car chase with the cops and causing some comical mayhem. But then he gets caught and sent to prison, where the first thing they do is shave off the stache. Now it’s a No Mustache Burt movie, in which he faces conflict with a stoic, badass presence, not the smartass smirk Mustache Burt would employ.

    Occasionally, Mustache Burt would try to do No Mustache Burt roles, but they didn’t work as well. The mustache is inherently comical, sapping some of the badass from movies like MALONE or STICK (although they’re still decent). The mustache says “Just foolin’, fellas, no hard feelings, right?” The lack of mustache says “Guys, settle down, I’m serious.”

    In closing, I know a guy who claims to be Burt’s nephew. He says he has the hair from one of Burt’s old mustaches saved in a ziplock bag. Until I see it with my own two eyes, however, I remain unconvinced. I like to think I’d recognize an authentic Reynolds stache if I saw one.

  19. Obviously I haven’t got a degree in Burtism, but I have a list of badass mustache Burt movies that defies Majestyk’s laws of nature;

    Fuzz
    Shamus
    The Man Who loved Cat Dancing
    Sharky’s Machine
    Stick
    Heat
    Malone

  20. Jareth Cutestory

    March 8th, 2012 at 7:37 am

    Needs further research: Bearded Burt (THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN).

    Also, Grey Moustache Burt.

  21. Thanks for the shoutout, Ace. I was pretty proud of my Mustache Manifesto so I’m glad that it stuck with you. However, I never intended for it to be a unified theory of Burtism, so I recognize there to be certain exceptions. For instance, later in that same post I brought up W.W. AND THE DIXIE DANCE-KINGS as an example of a Mustache Movie without the mustache, and of course Malone will kick a guy’s nut to death just for talking to him wrong, so that’s a No Mustache Movie with mustache. I just intended it as a general rule of thumb for if you’re scanning the Burtography, and I think it holds up as such, more or less.

  22. Mr M is right. Although Burt has the odd moment of pure baddassedness with the ‘tache, it was like a bad influence on him, goading him into hamming it up and playing the clown.

    I remember really wanting to rent out SHARKY’S MACHINE when I was a kid, for some reason, but HEAT and STICK either didn’t get a rental release in the UK or just didn’t make an impact on me the way SM did.

    A few years ago, I got up at 2am with a migraine and found SHARKY’S MACHINE playing on the TV.

    It wasn’t in the TV listings, it was just on, as if sent by Burt himself to help ease my pain.

    Watching it bleary eyed, I have to say, I thought SHARKY’S MACHINE was pretty great – the cast, the mood, the action, Burt – all of it worked.

    Aftet the film had film had finished I noted two things: my migraine had cleared and yes, that was Dan Inosanto in the scene on the boat.

    Thanks, Burt.

  23. “Mr M is right.” I just never get tired of reading that.

  24. Okay, how do you explain No-Mustache Burt’s performance in Striptease?

    And does anyone know if he had thwe mustache for All Dogs Go to Heaven? The tone of the voicework would point to yes, according to Majestyk’s theory.

    One also wonders if you could apply the mustache/no-mustache theory to other actors, like Kevin Kline or Tom Selleck?

  25. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    March 9th, 2012 at 1:15 am

    Inception Burt, a ‘tache within a ‘tache.

  26. Applying the mustache theory to the most famous mustache actor of them all, Charles Bronson, would give us some interesting results. Magnificent Seven, Battle of the Bulge, The Dirty Dozen, Guns for San Sebastian, Once Upon a Time in the West, The Valachi Papers, Hard Times, Act of Vengeance and The Indian Runner are non mustache movies, and if there’s one thing that unites these classics it’s the fact that he’s really acting here. He’s not just playing Bronson, he IS the character. Apparently Don Siegel wanted him to shave for the lead in Telefon, but Charlie just answered “No mustache, no Bronson”.

  27. So I suddenly got curious about whether or not the remake was still going forward with Statham starring and De Palma directing. Turns out Stathe is still onboard but they got Simon West instead of De Palma. You could basically hear the whistling sound as my expectations plummeted. Ugh. After THE MECHANIC and EXPENDABLES 2 that guy is basically dead to me. You can be bland or you can be incompetent, Mr. West; you can’t be both.

    Statham is still awesome but he needs to start working with good directors soon. The only movie he’s made since CRANK 2 with any kind of rewatchability is SAFE, and nobody’s claiming that’s any more than slightly better-than-average. DTV is inevitable for him but he doesn’t have to rush headlong into it like he seems dead set on doing.

  28. Mr M, you know I usually disagree with you on both West and Statham (I even liked PARKER), and I don’t really want to start a discussion about any of them. But I would claim that you can watch both BLITZ and KILLER ELITE just as many times as SAFE. And my youngest kid would say that GNOMEO AND JULIET can be watched on a weekly basis without getting old.

  29. I haven’t seen PARKER yet, but I thought KILLER ELITE and BLITZ were perfectly functional action thrillers that don’t have enough pizazz to invite rewatching. (By “pizazz” I clearly mean “memorable action sequences.”) You watch it once to see how the story plays out and that’s basically all you need. SAFE is this weird mix of ridiculous plotting and pulp sentimentality, held together by a whole lot of interestingly shot carnage. I consider it an order of magnitude more intriguing, both visually and narratively, than those other two.

  30. I can’t disagree with that.

  31. PARKER was ok. Nice to see Michael Chiklis basically repeating Vic Mackey.

  32. Yeah, I saw some critics mentioning THE COMMISH as if THE SHIELD, or even VEGAS, never happened.

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