80s Odyssey: Dead Heat (1988) & Order Of The Black Eagle (1987)

dead heatDead Heat is the kind of movie I should have already seen. On one hand, it’s exactly the kind of movie that sounds right up my alley: a buddy cop movie involving zombies. It was also, as my buddy Sean Collins wrote about years ago, an entry in one of the many Manly Movie Mamajamas I missed (they watched this and the excellent Tango & Cash and Point Break). I’ve also heard a bunch of my friends — many of the guys that attended that MMM — talk about how crazy it is. It wasn’t until Rickey Purdin’s latest VHS Diary post that the bug finally got in my ear deep enough to get me to watch the flick on Netflix Instant. And, man, they were right, this is one wacky, kind of awesome movie.

I write a lot on UM about how I like peanut butter and chocolate movies, you know two great tastes that taste great together. I’ve got a lot of subgenres I like, but I’m an even bigger fan of movies that combine those genres successfully. For the most part, Dead Heat does just that, though it’s a little more goofy and sloppy than some of my favorite movies of the original genres.

The film follows cops Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo as they get involved with some crimes that lead them to a strange discovery: some of the perps had already been dead. This brings them to a company that has developed a way to resurrect the dead. In the process, Williams winds up dying but Piscopo and their pal the medical examiner toss him on the machine and turn him into the undead. He’s not your typical zombie right away  but as we eventually find out, he will deteriorate like his fellow formerly dead folks.

For the first half or so, it’s your basic buddy cop flick with a sci-fi/horror kick off, but then it turns into a full-on, bonkers zombie action movie. There’s this scene at a butcher shop in Chinatown that reminded me of movies like Re-Animator, Evil Dead and Dead Alive. It was insane. I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t seen, just do yourself a favor and check it out if the idea of reanimated dead chickens attacking two cops sounds like your cup of tea.

But the movie’s not perfect. When I first turned it on I remember thinking, “Hey, Joe Piscopo, what happened to that guy? He was supposed to be the next big thing from Saturday Night Live in the 80s.” I know part of the explanation there is that his co-star Eddie Murphy blew up as the next big thing. He starred in Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hours, the kinds of buddy cop flicks that I love and inspired the making of this one, clearly. But, I also didn’t get the sense that Piscopo was comfortable in the film. It wasn’t just that his character was freaked out by the fact that his pal and partner was a zombie, but that the man himself just wasn’t used to being on a film set. There’s one scene where the ME is explaining how they’re going to bring Treat back and Piscopo is just staring directly at the camera which is a general no-no.

As far as I’m concerned, though that’s a minor quibble. I still had a great time watching this movie today. It’s not like one of the best buddy cops of all time has horror elements in it, but it’s a fun attempt that I really wish I could have watched with my buddies.

order of the Black EagleI think the MMM gang would also get a kick out of Order Of The Black Eagle, a weird, wacky take on the James Bond spy flicks of the 70s and 80s. Our super spy in question this time around is Duncan Jax, played by a guy who only ever appeared in this movie and its sequel which I couldn’t find on Netflix at all. He does his best super-smooth routine, which you almost buy and then the next thing you know, he’s talking to his baboon while on a mission. The monkey is kind of a partner/valet/special friend, though he gets left behind for most of the action at the end.

The plot’s not super important to the movie aside from the fact that some Nazis were able to put Hitler in cryo freeze and they’re planning on thawing him out. Oh, there’s also something about a space age weapon, too. Jax gets sent to put a stop to this group, the titular Order of the Black Eagle, but he’s not the only one. There’s an American as well as a rag tag group of mercenaries that you can see in the trailer. I personally love how each of their specialties are put right on front street by way of their names (ie Spike throws knives!).

I didn’t give this movie as much attention as I should have, but I got the feeling that this one was more tongue in cheek than “trying to be clever and coming off as silly.” Some of the action stuff actually looked alright and I thought the scene of what wound up happening to Hitler was pretty interesting for this kind of movie.

I enjoyed this movie for its goofiness mixed with a pretty solid ending action scene. It’s the kind of thing you put on while doing stuff around the house or with a bunch of friends just looking to goof off, drink some beers and joke around about a movie. Man, if nothing else, watching these movies made me want to set up another MMM!

The Chronological Spielberg: 1941 (1979)

Is it possible to have too much talent involved in a film? If there was ever an argument for that theory presented in theaters, I think it might be 1941. This flick was directed by Steven Spielberg directly after Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale who would write a little film called Back to the Future six years after this was released. It stars an A-list crop of comedic and dramatic actors from Slim Pickens and John Belushi to Christopher Lee and Toshiro Mifune. Even with all that going for it, 1941 is simply not a good movie. I wish I could explain simply why that is, but the closest thing I can come up with is that the script is too unfocused, the film is too long and maybe Spielberg was trying to fit his square peg into a more John Landis-shaped hole.

I didn’t know all of the above when I went into this film, so I was definitely surprised by the huge amount of silly, slapsticky humor that kicks this film off, including a nude woman swimming in the ocean to the Jaws theme music who happens to be swimming under a Japanese sub. The idea here is that it’s right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and everyone’s freaked out. The film takes place in California where they’re specifically freaked out about another attack like the one in Hawaii. This acts as the backdrop for a huge number of gags, storylines and sources of conflict.

The problem is that I don’t care. When the film’s supposed hero is presented as a goober bus boy who just wants to dance with a girl in a contest and then we’re shown a military group that’s made up of mostly boring or jerky people. Worse yet? That group is made up of Dan Aykroyd, John Candy and Treat Williams and they’re somewhat wasted.

Or are they? Honestly, it was hard for me to focus on this movie because its subject matter was treated in such a goofy manner that I just didn’t care. Apparently a huge anti-sub gun really was placed in a person’s yard in real life, but the way its handled in this movie with its cartoony nature, it’s just another piece of an overly complex movie.

The funny thing is that I think someone like Landis could have done a lot better with this film. Maybe Spielberg didn’t know who or what to cut. Maybe Landis would have utilized his talent a little better (from what I remember, Candy does little to nothing but mug in the movie). I definitely think he would have kept the film significantly shorter. Many people believe comedy should be kept around the 90 minute mark, especially zany ones because its easier for an audience to suspend their disbelief over a shorter period of time. I tend to agree with that and if this film had been less cartoony and had more of an actual emotional center, as well as had been roughly 60-90 minutes shorter, it could have been a much better film.