Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 3, 2016)
Back when City Heat reached screens in 1984, it looked like a sure-fire blockbuster. After all, it featured Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds, then two of the biggest movie stars on the planet.
Alas, the end result didn’t achieve the expected heights. The movie got generally poor reviews and sputtered at the box office. Its $38 million US left it as the 22nd biggest hit of 1984, a ranking far below what one would have predicted for a flick that united two “A”-list actors.
Set in Kansas City circa 1933, Speer (Eastwood) and Murphy (Reynolds) used to be partners on the local police force. However, Murphy quit to become a private detective, and this led to a bitter estrangement between the one-time pals.
Circumstances contrive to reunite Speer and Murphy. When Murphy’s partner Swift (Richard Roundtree) attempts to blackmail local mobster Leon Coll (Tony Lo Bianco), Swift ends up in the morgue. Speer and Murphy join together to deal with this and related issues.
With a script ghost-written by Blake Edwards and with Richard Benjamin behind the camera, one would expect that Heat to go for comedy and play more as a spoof of period gangster movies than anything else.
To some degree, this occurs, as Heat favors laughs over grit. However, exceptions happen – and they can be jarring. For instance, the film handles Swift’s death in a surprisingly graphic, violent manner, and other scenes follow suit.
Some movies can balance comedy and violence – such as Beverly Hills Cop, a much more successful effort from late 1984 – but Heat flops. It seems unsure what direction to pursue, so it can’t pull off the drama or the comedy well.
This dichotomy spreads to the stars as well, for both Eastwood and Reynolds seem to be in different movies. Though he occasionally nods toward comedy, Eastwood tends to play things straight, and he doesn’t break a sweat; he sticks with his standard Dirty Harry demeanor.
On the other hand, Reynolds camps it up with a much more comedic performance. I won’t say he fails to take any of the story seriously, but Reynolds opts for broad shtick and favors the film’s parodic side. Reynolds seems to understand that the material doesn’t work, so he doesn’t appear to invest in the character. He keeps Murphy superficial and weightless, so his stabs at humor flop.
Heat also loses points due to an oddly muddled plot. The tale of blackmail and various mobster factions fails to coalesce, largely because the narrative remains meaningless. The convoluted story wanders and meanders and lollygags but never actually goes anywhere. The viewer doesn’t invest in the tale because it lacks any form of direction.
All of these factors combine to make City Heat a decidedly forgettable 97 minutes. If its leads showed better chemistry, I might find some redemption, but as it stands, the movie flails and provides little to no entertainment value.