Most anyone who became aware of both self and American culture after the 1980s has heard of Arnold Schwarzenegger. They’ve probably seen at least one of his films, or maybe heard that he ran California and had terrible taste in SUVs. That’s not all these people would have in common. They would also all be collectively unaware that, once upon a time, Jim Belushi was famous. That’s right, Millennials and those from the generation-yet-to-be-adequately-named, once upon a time there was a mediocre actor and comedian who punched well above his weight, starring in such films as The Principal, Real Men, K-9, and Red Heat, all of which made money.
I would like to go full cliché and write that it was a simpler time, but not if a person was trying to get famous. Jim Belushi had three ways, and three ways only, to make it to the top: comedy, television, and the movies. There was no World Wide Web. There were no opportunities to reach the masses outside of methods established over decades of corporate control of media. Jim Belushi is a man who ran the gauntlet of the entertainment industry and, for a few years anyway, came out a winner. It was either a story of untold determination, or nepotism, whichever floats your boat.
I suppose I could dedicate an entire month to reviewing the work of Jim Belushi, but I don’t hate myself that much. This month is about Arnold, and Arnold it shall be.
Red Heat, from 1988, lies right in the middle of Arnold’s peak as a film star. It’s nestled in between Predator and Terminator 2 in his filmography. He hadn’t gotten around to breaking any box office records just yet, but it was only the matter of another film before the insanely large receipts started pouring in. In the meantime, there’s this weird film to explain.
Arnold plays Captain Ivan Danko, a Soviet police officer who is dispatched to Chicago by his home government to bring back a fugitive. The fugitive, Viktor Rosta (Ed O’Ross), is a Georgian drug dealer who has introduced cocaine, the dread scourge of capitalist societies, into utopian Soviet Union. This outrage cannot be allowed to stand. In Chicago, Danko is partnered with wisecracking police detective Art Ridzik (Belushi), playing the one part, since Belushi was born and raised in Chicago, that he was made for. Thankfully, he toned down the accent for general distribution. And by that, I mean Belushi. Arnold actually thickened his up, providing viewers with the odd spectacle of someone with a thick Austrian accent trying to imitate the way a Russian accent sounds to an American. It’s still a better effort than Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins.
Despite all local laws and foreign treaties, Captain Danko is allowed to roam freely through the Windy City packing a huge hand cannon and blowing away every bad guy he manages to locate. The body count in this one isn’t as high as a lot of other Arnold movies, but that’s only because there isn’t any army at the end for him to fight. But don’t fret. There are still plenty of opportunities for Arnold to get shot at, only for the bad guys to inexplicably miss. In fact, the terrible aim of the bad guys is worse than normal in this one. But that’s not the biggest problem with this movie.
Guess what? I’m done picking on Jim Belushi. That’s because he was not the weak point of this movie. He could very well have chosen to fall into his role as the sidekick in a buddy comedy, but he clearly was not having it. His character is an equal to Danko’s, and better performed.
Arnold’s Danko is a brick wall. He plays the part with no emotion and no character development. There is no way anyone in the audience can relate to this movie’s hero. And that includes Russians. Danko is a manifestation of Americans’ bizarre conception of the Soviet superman, à la Rocky IV, but it in no way resembles a real person, much less an actual Russian. This type of emotionless monolith must be insulting to Russians. Or maybe they can take a joke. I don’t know. What I do know is, the last time Arnold played a character this stiff, it was as the terminator, a character that really was a machine. It just doesn’t make sense for Danko to be this way.
This being an ’80s action flick, there’s a lot of gunplay, a lot of plot holes, and it only matters if you notice the former. Arnold was about to move up another level in Hollywood, but before that could happen, there was Red Heat. This one is for Arnold fans only.