Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Mark Goldblatt, a well-renowned film editor who's worked on everything from PIRANHA to SHOWGIRLS, made his directorial debut with this 1988 release. Taking the premise of the noir classic D.O.A. to its (il)logical extreme, DEAD HEAT also added a darkly humorous twist to the burgeoning buddy-cop genre (no surprise, given that screenwriter Terry Black's brother is LETHAL WEAPON scribe Shane Black). I'd never bothered to see this one, considering its ghastly reputation as being both unfunny and unscary (non-scary? whatever), so when I finally did check it out a few years ago--and only because it was part of a six-disc set of zombie films from Anchor Bay I'd picked up--I went in with zero expectations.

My initial reaction, I was pleasantly surprised. Yet subsequent viewings proved that ultimately it's a mediocre endeavor with a few inspired bursts.

Treat Williams (as Roger Mortis, ho-ho, in a dry, understated performance that probably would've worked better in a straight action vehicle) and Joe Piscopo (as obnoxious as you'd expect, but intolerably so) are a pair of L.A. detectives investigating a ring of armed robberies perpetrated by thieves apparently impervious to bullets. While following up a lead, Williams in killed by an unknown assailant and is brought back to life thanks to an oversized contraption in the research facility they're looking into. Can Williams solve his own murder before he rots away?

The biggest obstacle DEAD HEAT faces is a hole-ridden storyline--the apparatus that revives Williams is never really explained, and most of the villains' motivations are vaguely defined at best--that comes up a few degrees shy of engaging. The B-level budget can be felt all too plainly in most of the action sequences (the exception being the scene in which Williams and Piscopo square off in a Chinese restaurant against a horde of reanimated entrees, including a ambulatory liver and a rampaging side of beef, which makes up in originality what it sorely lacks in logic). All too often the humor is forced, most often in the form of Piscopo's tired, '80s-sitcom gags.

Still, with a supporting cast that includes such genre favorites as Robert Picardo, Darren McGavin, and Vincent Price, it's hard to be completely turned off. Steve Johnson sneaks in a few interesting FX moments, and at 85 minutes at least has the decency to be brief.

If you prefer the likes of Joel Silver and Richard Donner over George Romero, you'll probably enjoy this.

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