Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Film Review: DEAD HEAT (1988, Mark Goldblatt)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 86 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Treat Williams (HAIR, PRINCE OF THE CITY, MARATHON MAN), Joe Piscapo (SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, SIDEKICKS), Vincent Price, Keye Luke (GREMLINS, the #1 son in the 30's CHARLIE CHAN movies), Darren McGavin (THE NIGHT STALKER, RAW DEAL, A CHRISTMAS STORY) , Lindsay Frost (COLLATERAL DAMAGE, Shannon's stepmom on TV's LOST, THE RING), Professor Toru Tanaka (THE RUNNING MAN, PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE, DARKMAN), Shane Black (here, in a cameo, writer of LETHAL WEAPON, LAST ACTION HERO, KISS KISS BANG BANG).
Tag-lines: "These cops are on the biggest murder case of their lives... their own." or "You can't keep a good cop dead."
Best one-liner: "Lady, I'm fuckin' dead!"

You have to wonder about the siblings Terry and Shane Black. Shane's first screenplay to get produced was LETHAL WEAPON in 1987. Terry's was DEAD HEAT in 1988. They share a similar meta sensibility, a penchant for witty banter, and a love of the absurd. Only the thing is, LETHAL WEAPON made twice as much in its opening weekend than DEAD HEAT made in its entire run, and Terry just went on to write a few episodes of TALES FROM THE CRYPT, while Shane got a slew of A-pictures.

Shane, here in a cameo as a Patrolman.

But it doesn't matter, because DEAD HEAT is a fine achievement in and of itself. It's a lower budget LETHAL WEAPON infused with equal parts ROBOCOP and DAWN OF THE DEAD, and the result is a whacky ride that continually ups its psychotic stakes. Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo are our cops, Piscopo playing the unhinged Neanderthal jokester and Williams the sensitive straight man. Unlike, say, Mel Gibson in a similar role, Piscopo forgets to make the role likable.

He's SUCH a dick, though, that it still manages to work, even if unintentionally ("You are under arrest. You have the right to remain disgusting."). Williams, as always, is stellar, and as the film progresses, he undergoes a transformation into slick, punk, Bill Paxton in NEAR DARK-esque one-liner dropping tough guy.

Then we got several minor horror icons from Darren McGavin (THE NIGHT STALKER) to Keye Luke (GREMLINS), all culminating with an appearance by the legendary VINCENT PRICE.

Just when you think you know where the film's going, it throws completely maniacal twists at you...I don't want to give anything away, because half of this film's charm is its ability to induce spit-takes in the viewer as the madness exponentially increases. But still take note of the film's point of no return, which pits our cop buddies against a horde of viscous, undead Chinese food.

If you're at all a fan of Shane Black or the buddy cop genre, you really do owe it to yourself to check this one out. Five stars.

-Sean Gill


Bryon said...

I’m really not into the “B” rated horror flicks too much, but “Dead Heat” is such an interesting movie. It was funny (in a corny way) and suspenseful as the various characters were revealed in a hieriarchy of evil, with surprises around each corner. I just saw it today when I had some time to kill when I was browsing live TV on my iPhone because I have a DISH Network employee Sling box. I caught the movie a little after it started so I set my DVR from my iPhone to record it again on Encore the next time. I was telling my friend I liked this movie which surprised her and she recommended “Shaun of the Dead” which is her favorite zombie spoof movie.

Sean Gill said...


Thanks for stopping by!

I certainly enjoyed DEAD HEAT more than I had expected to; it really sets a standard for insanity piled upon insanity in a format that actually works! I too enjoy SHAUN OF THE DEAD, but I must say that DEAD HEAT trumps it, at least in terms of true absurdity.

Cacomagen said...

I grew up watching this movie SO OFTEN and I'm so happy to see you give it a 5/5. I usually get flak for loving it and it kills me.

Cacomagen said...

I'm SO happy to see the score you gave this. I grew up watching this movie probably way more than was healthy and I just love it. I usually get flak or a blank stare when I mention it to people and I can never for the life of me understand it!

Sean Gill said...


Very glad you enjoy DEAD HEAT as much as I do––it's certainly an underrated '80s classic, and it's unfortunate that Terry Black hasn't been able to write more movies.