Ned Racine (William Hurt) is a Florida lawyer who in the summer heat, one of the hottest on record, spends his spare time picking up women for one night stands, never thinking anything about actually falling in love. That is before he meets Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner) when watching a band play an outdoor concert, and follows her to the beach where he strikes up a conversation with her. She warns him she is married, but he thinks she is playing hard to get and chats her up, though she walks away when he is distracted...
Not that such elusive behaviour will put off Ned, but as Matty observes in their first meeting, he's not too smart - she likes that in a man, as we will find out. Body Heat was Lawrence Kasdan's directorial debut after some successful screenplays, and as with many of his films he was keen to show a love of the classic Hollywood movies of yesteryear, in this case Double Indemnity. His unique selling point was that back in the nineteen-forties Billy Wilder wouldn't have been able to show Barbara Stanwyck naked and indulging in sex scenes, but in this he could show all those sequences which were left to your imagination in the vintage film noirs.
Unfortunately that was about all that was new about Body Heat, and while it may have gone on to influence a whole rash of erotic thrillers just as it had been influenced itself by what had gone before, watching it now it does not seem as fresh a take on ageing material as it once did. In fact, there was a sense of old wine in new bottles about it that was hard to shake, and the conventions Kasdan was paying tribute to were looking more like clichés, which might explain why there's almost a curiously parodic tone to much of the movie. It's no surprise that Turner went on practically immediately to spoof her role here in The Man with Two Brains.
That's due to her just about staying on the right side of spoof in her performance here, and she steals the film from her co-stars, especially the dim bulb portrayed by Hurt, who might be able to put across his character's dumb lust, but makes it hard to believe he'd ever make it as much of a lawyer - or a conspirator. This was by design, naturally, but did have the plot dawdling around when the audience were way ahead of Ned, breeding impatience in the viewer when even if they had not seen the source, they were all too aware of where this was heading, and that Ned was blind to this impending doom was frustrating.
Certainly Kasdan was reckoning on you being as much of a fan of classic thrillers as he was, and he invited you to settle back and indulge yourself in all those earlier works now brought up to the eighties with a sultry mood. Matty remained hard to fathom thanks to Turner's expert playing in a film which fumbled the mystery slant when it was glaringly obvious to all and sundry what she was planning - essentially killing her rich, older husband (Richard Crenna) for the inheritance and setting Ned up as her fall guy - which may leave you restless if you were not content to see this play out precisely as you were expecting. Even the other characters around Ned such as Ted Danson's tapdancing lawyer can perceive what is going on, so the opinion of Ned that he deserved all he got for stumbling straight into his own downfall with both feet was undeniable. As with many Kasdan works, it was respectful to what had gone before, but didn't quite come alive as its own entity. Music by John Barry.
American writer and director with a gift for sharp, crowd-pleasing scriptwriting. Made his debut as a writer/director with the modern noir hit Body Heat in 1981, and turned in deft screenplays for blockbusters Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. His other most notable films as director are The Big Chill and The Accidental Tourist, while Silverado and Wyatt Earp were flawed but admirable attempts to bring the western back into fashion.