One night in Prohibition era Kansas City and Lieutenant Speer (Clint Eastwood) walks into a diner, requesting a cup of coffee from the counterman and making note of the two heavies who are hanging around there - are they waiting for someone? They demand to know if Mike Murphy (Burt Reynolds) has been in, and shortly after he does appear, sitting down for his own coffee when he is interrupted by the thugs; reasoning this is not going to end well, Murphy gets in the first punches, but soon a full blown brawl is underway, smashing furniture and sending patrons flying. Oh, and it also causes Speer to spill his coffee, which is the last straw...
There are some movies where you can be watching them quite happily until part of the way in when you come to the conclusion you have no idea why anyone in it is doing anything, and City Heat was one of those movies. It was a sure thing in 1984, two of the biggest Hollywood stars around teaming up for a box office bonanza, but it looked very old hat in light of the new strain of buddy movies which were really catching on in the mid-eighties, especially as this was not exactly one of those. There may have been nudges towards the comedy action rivalry that defined the form, but throughout this pair resolutely remained their own men, as if reluctant to share the screen with each other.
Perhaps if it had been a more traditional buddy flick City Heat would have been more successful, but behind the scenes things were not going too smoothly either. Most famously it was here Reynolds received a serious injury when a stunt went wrong and he was struck by a metal chair, leading to hospitalisation for a broken jaw and a long period of recovery, but rumours of participants not getting along were rife, especially as original director Blake Edwards, whose idea the film was, ended up persuaded to leave, apparently so Eastwood could run the show his way, though there were reports of friction between Reynolds and Edwards too. The departing director made his feelings plain by giving his pseudonymous script credit the initials "S.O.B."
If any of these issues appeared on the screen, they were well hidden beneath a veneer of professionalism (though Burt's character dons a costume and mask for the finale so his stuntman could double for him in the final punch-up), yet some credited that less to replacement director Richard Benjamin and more to Eastwood, who was making sure everything was going the way he wanted it, Benjamin to all intents and purposes hired as his yes man. Some of this, mostly the comedy, is quite bright, with Eastwood in particular again taking on his hardman persona and giving it a critical assessment, this time almost self-parodying himself as a Dirty Harry type and getting quite a few funny lines while remaining the toughest character in the story.
Reynolds, too, had his moments as he allowed his wiseacre charm to coast through a plot which was difficult to get a handle on - something to do with two rival gang bosses (Rip Torn and Tony Lo Bianco) trying to get their hands on ledgers which will incriminate one of them, but really a morass of gangster tropes dressed up as a narrative which made little sense if you were misguided enough to sit down and try to work it out. There was an interesting cast in support: sadly Eraserhead himself, Jack Nance, didn't share the screen with the two megastars, but there were roles for Richard Roundtree as Murphy's partner in their detective agency who is instrumental in using the ledgers to his advantage (guess how he ends up), Jane Alexander, fresh from an Oscar nomination in Armageddon depress-o-thon Testament, Irene Cara singing a few songs and looking constantly worried, and the recognisable likes of William Sanderson and Nicholas Worth in minor roles. Madeline Kahn was Reynolds' love interest, a nice match, yet you wish the better match had been him and Eastwood. Music by Lennie Niehaus.
Given the talent involved this should have been a lot more memorable. Some funny gags but the great chemistry between Clint and Burt belongs in a better movie. The production design by Edward Carfagno and cinematography Nick McLean are amazing, though contribute to a somewhat heavy-handed tone that goes against the comedy.
13 Mar 2014
It just sounds as if it was a massive hassle to make and all concerned were relieved to get it over with, not the best basis for a comedy.