Since we are transitioning from our tribute to Burt Reynolds to Rip Torn, City Heat was the first movie that came to mind. It has Reynolds and Torn as well as what looks on paper to be a strong supporting cast. Until I watched this film again to write this review, I forgot just how bad this movie really is.
City Heat is a 1984 (purportedly) action-comedy film. Pairing Eastwood and Reynolds in a Prohibition-era action-comedy probably looked like a good idea at the time and it did make money in spite of itself (earning $38,300,000 at the box office on a $25,000,000 budget).
Set in Kansas City in 1933, a police lieutenant known simply by his last name, Speer (Eastwood), is acquainted with your template former cop turned private eye named Mike Murphy (Reynolds). Of course Speer and Murphy served on the force together and were once good friends, but now can’t stand each other. Oh, we are just setting this one up for some hilarious scenes with this original story line. Be that as it may, these two chums have eyes for Murphy’s secretary Addy. Addy loves both and (tries) to prove it when she kisses Murphy goodbye and then goes on a date with Speer. Murphy, however, has a new romantic interest in a rich socialite type named Caroline Howley (Madeline Kahn). Speer takes Addy to a boxing match on his date at which the mob boss Primo Pitt (Torn) is present. Murphy’s partner Dehl Swift (Richard “Shaft” Rountree) is also there and is sucking up to Pitt and his gang. Swift has a briefcase that Pitt and his boys want—badly.
Without skipping a beat, Swift is shot by Pitt’s thugs who are there to get the case, but there’s nothing inside. One of the goons throws Swift’s body out of the window and lands on the roof of Speer’s car. As is required in all police-action-comedies, Murphy vows revenge on Pitt for killing his partner. He asks Speer for assistance and they form a reluctant alliance.
After a lot of needless filler, final showdowns occur in a warehouse, where Speer “humorously” pulls out a weapon larger than Murphy’s, and in a brothel, where Murphy shows up in costume. Again, this film category requires that the men again have become friends, at least until a casual remark leads to them stepping outside and bickering, face to face.
I can’t think of another cliché that could have been added to this movie, although I have been trying. If you can come up with one, please send it to me in a comment. After all, the film already contains such original subplots and devices as an about to be dead guy who is warned by his girlfriend ahead of time “Dehl, don’t do this,” a girlfriend who is kidnapped and held hostage by gangsters (in fact every woman in the movie is kidnapped by gangsters at some point), gangsters in search of “goods” that must be delivered in a suitcase, a P.I. who eats dinner every night in the same diner, the bathtub gin stored under the sink, a devoted secretary who never leaves her post even at night (as a sole proprietor myself I have to wonder how he pays her), Congressmen turning up in a brothel, gangsters who spend all their spare time playing poker, a henchman named “Lefty”…the list could go on and on, but you get the idea.
Likewise, the running gags in City Heat come to a complete standstill. For example, it quickly stops being funny to hear Reynolds ask, after someone bursts in a door, “doesn’t anybody ever knock?”
This movie had problems both on and off the set. Reynolds seriously injured his jaw, the morons at the marketing department opened “City Heat” against “Beverly Hills Cop,” and Eddie Murphy cleaned the clocks of both Eastwood and Reynolds. Reynolds would never be a top star again. Adding insult to injury, the ad tag line “The Heat is On!” first used by “City Heat” was shifted to “Beverly Hills Cop” (and to Glen Fry’s song) when “City Heat” mercifully disappeared from theaters.
I’ll almost always take a good story over “stars” and if you ever needed proof that superstars aren’t as important as a good screenplay then look to City Heat. Apparently Blake Edwards (Pink Panther Series) was set to direct this movie but got fired sometime during the filming because he couldn’t agree with the two stars on what this film’s end product should look like a/k/a “creative differences.” Maybe the loss of Edwards was a material factor in the abortion this film turned out to be, but whatever the reason it’s doubtful you’ll see Eastwood in a worse movie.