Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Dead Heat is misguided, miscalculated and mean-spirited.
And I kind of liked it.
Dead Heat was meant to be Joe Piscopo's illustrious comeback to Hollywood after a battle with cancer. God bless the man, but this was not a good choice.
Treat Williams plays Roger Mortis (HA!), and Joe is his partner, Doug. Hot on the heels of a shoot out where the bad guys took about a thousand bullets and kept on going, they somehow stumble across this perfume laboratory where zombies are being created(!). During a scuffle, Roger finds himself in a decompression chamber that certainly decompresses him... permanently. Or so you think. Thanks to Roger's ex-girlfriend, Rebecca, he becomes her guinea pig as she resurrects him. Then she bluntly tells him that in about 12 hours he'll become "organic stew". How sweet. Roger, being the true blue cop he is, decides he's going to use this time to get to the bottom of this zombie making scam. I don't know, I think I'd hit the beach or something...
I'm positive that this movie must have looked great on paper. It was 1988 and cop/buddy movies were all the craze. From Turner and Hooch to Red Heat, Hollywood was finding as many ways to re-use this formula as possible. Two great twists on the tired premise stand out to me. The Hidden, an excellent and odd cop/buddy movie where the parnter is an alien, and this one. I mean, how cool would be to have a cop movie where one of them is a zombie?!? That totally rocks. Unfortunately, everything about the script fails this interesting idea.
First of all, there is really no talk of Roger's short future. Every so often he makes a kind of sarcastic or blunt comment on his impending death, but most of the movie kind of exploits whatever non-funny gags it can pull out of its undead hat. When Roger begins to go pale, he buys lipstick and Joe Piscopo says in a stereotypical gay-ish lisp "It brings out your eyes," which only leads to a groan instead of a laugh. However, this same line comes in handy at the end, and is re-used in one of the best shots of the movie. I have to admit, I did laugh at it that time... I'm so conflicted!
There's some really misguided shit in here. Watch the scene were Roger is driving a woman around (first of all, why is the zombie driving?!?), and he makes a joke and kind of looks at her in this sort of embarrassed I'm-hitting-on-you kind of way. Fine. Then the camera cuts back so you can see everyone in the car and Roger continues to look at her while he's driving. He even turns a corner without so much as a glimpse towards the road! It's a great goof.
Unlike the other zombies, when Roger decomposes he ends up looking like a sleazy Miami Vice fan. I had no idea that the dead used that much hair gel.
If you can work with the idea that someone's ex-lover would bring them back from the dead, only to make the real departure that much more horrific, you can enjoy the death of every single cast member. This may be the first comedy where everyone dies! And there is this superbly gross scene in a Chinese market where decapitated animals come back to life. There's even a gag with a duck head's quacking. Gee, how funny. And the scene goes on forever.
Then there's Joe. Straight outta Mulletland, he's the crazy buddy. You know the one, the Mel Gibson to Treat's Danny Glover. He tries, but so much fails him, I'm surprised he could put in any effort at all.
So why did I like it, you ask? Am I just a cold-hearted bitch who enjoys misery? Is it because Treat Williams is pretty cute? I don't know if I can answer that question. All I know is, I laughed and was engaged, albeit for all of the wrong reasons, by this mish-mosh. It's a mess, don't get me wrong. The jokes are mind-numbingly bad, the idea of Treat's situation simply isn't funny either, and frankly, it's a little sick. But hey, life is short (especially for Roger), and I've come to truly appreciate the so-bad-it's-good movie. It's kind of an art form, and can make even the most flat films come to life. It's not a total loss either, Darren McGavin is just brilliant and Vincent Price shows up at the end and does that thing that made us love him in the first place. Just knowing those two were in a film together kind of warms my heart and if Dead Heat isn't poetry in motion, at least it's original. And when was the last time you saw that?