Thursday, October 25, 2012

Night of Terror #25: Dead Heat

Hello, scary movie fans and self-Googling former Saturday Night Live cast members! Today we have a guest spot from my friend Tim Garlitz on the film Dead Heat - as a personal note, when Tim told me that this movie was "a zombie cop movie starring Joe Piscopo and Treat Williams" I could barely believe such a thing really existed. Here he is on the horror and majesty of Dead Heat:

This review contains major spoilers, so if you were worried about having the film Dead Heat spoiled, then I just feel sorry for you.

I’m curious as to who was the first Hollywood executive who stated, “what if we crossed a buddy cop movie with a zombie movie and got Treat Williams and that Joe guy from Saturday Night Live to play the leads? Also, what if, instead of Riggs and Murtaugh, it was Riggs and über-Riggs?” I wonder how many offices he was thrown out of before someone finally green lit the project. If the 86 minute running time is an indication, it’s clear that even the people that would make such a movie in the first place weren’t sure if audiences could take a full 90 minutes.

Dead Heat stars Treat Williams as Det. Roger Mortis (get it?) and Joe Piscopo as Det. Doug Bigelow, a leather jacket-wearing quip machine that puts Guy Pearce’s character in Lockout to shame. Any trace of actual police procedure or normal cop behavior is practically non-existent in this movie. Mortis and Bigelow are undercover cops that tool around in a ’57 Chevy convertible, after all. Sure, there are the standard cop-movie clichés, like getting chewed out by the chief and put on probation for all the damage caused to city property, but even the clichés seem forced, as clearly no one wanted to spend much time on formalities. They didn’t even bother with a storyline about someone’s early retirement.

The plot revolves around the detectives attempting to solve a string of jewelry heists perpetrated by criminals wearing ski masks in broad daylight. In each of the ensuing shootouts with these thieves the police have found them extremely difficult to kill, forcing Detective Mortis to impale one with a car. After one of the coroners (Mortis’ on-again-off-again girlfriend) discovers traces of a chemical found on the body, the detectives investigate a lab where the chemical is manufactured. After a run-in with a giant two-faced monster found stitched together in the lab, Mortis is killed (not a spoiler) in a special chamber and revived by a machine that essentially turns dead tissue into living matter. With no heartbeat and a rapidly deteriorating complexion, Mortis sets out to find his killer and the culprit behind the zombification of the thieves. WOW, explaining the set up for this movie took longer than the actual movie.

The film is set up in a way for the characters to get from set piece to set piece with as little dialogue or character development as possible. The writer on Dead Heat was Terry Black, who I assume was hired based on his last name, thinking he was a relative of Shane. However, judging by the Piscopo character, it’s more likely that Black was a failed standup comedian. Det. Bigelow, portrayed by Piscopo at what appears to be the height of his steroid usage, shows nothing resembling normal human reactions or behavior, and is practically a conduit to spout quip after quip, joke after joke, and sexist comment after sexist comment with zero remorse or pathos. The one time Piscopo actually does make an attempt at normal human emotion is completely laughable and ridiculous, as he ponders the ethics of reviving his partner and the necessity of the human soul. Over the course of the film Piscopo makes a pass at LITERALLY every woman he sees, mentions his girlfriend once, and mentions his ex-wife once, all bookended by punch-lines, never to be mentioned again. Although I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if they knew they’d have to be mentioned along with such witticisms as “I gotta take a leak so bad, my teeth are floating” and “Sorry to interrupt your erection, pal, but we’d like to speak to the management.”

The script problems also affect the pace the of the film, as I mentioned before with that 86 minutes. One of the main reasons for this is the apparent deletion of entire scenes replaced with overdubbing on transition and exterior shots, giving vital exposition on the fly instead of having actual scenes play out. This film has the most amount of obvious post-production added dialogue of just about any movie I’ve ever seen. This was also a great device to ensure more hilarity from Piscopo, as he is just shouting jokes off-screen for about 1/4th of this movie.

Yet despite all these unfortunate occurrences, the movie does have some surprisingly well-done makeup and effects. Most of the zombies (including eventually Treat Williams) are quite disgusting, and many of the effects are fairly inventive for this type of movie. One standout scene takes place in a Chinese butcher shop where all of the meat comes alive and starts to attack the detectives. Much of the atmosphere of this scene appears to be ripped from Big Trouble In Little China, but watching Treat Williams wrestle a skinless, headless cow is still pretty fantastic.

Several Hollywood veterans make appearances in this picture: Darren McGavin as the head coroner, Keye Luke as the stereotypical Chinese restaurant owner/mystic, and Vincent Price in a role that I believe has a total screen time of about 10 minutes, and I’m still not exactly sure who his character was or what he did. This was clearly one of Vincent Price’s last roles, and I doubt he had much interest in committing to the role too much.

By the end of the movie, practically everyone has died at some point and then been revived. Most of the characters that appeared early in the picture, including the police chief and the lieutenant, have all disappeared, never to be heard from again. And despite the one believable relationship in the film being between Mortis and his coroner girlfriend, no attempt is made to revive her when she dies near the end, because apparently that would be a little bit too sympathetic. Finally, to solidify its place in film history, the ending references Casablanca, because it features just as many memorable lines of dialogue as that classic. Although I guarantee that you won’t find this film scary in the least, if you appreciate buddy-cop movies, zombie movies, or bad movies, this will be guaranteed to entertain.

1 comment:

  1. I remember when I first saw this movie. I watched it three times in a week and insisted all my friends watch it with me.