City Heat

CITY HEAT—lukewarm at best, a 1984 fan-snare putting Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds together, playing with their tough-guy/smartass screen images by having them in a period piece comedy. With a ton of gunfire. A script originally written by Blake Edwards (as “Kansas City Jazz”) was meant to have him direct, but his way of working clashed with Clint’s, and starpower ruled: Edwards quit (taking a contractual $3mil), replaced as director by Richard Benjamin, with Edwards script credit doctored by the pseudonym ‘Sam O. Brown’ and shared with Joseph C. Stinson, a former book store clerk who’d written Clint’s not exactly funny Sudden Impact. 

Kansas City, 1933. Former partners who feud until the ultimate chips are down, police detective ‘Lt. Speer’ (Eastwood) and private eye ‘Mike Murphy’ (Reynolds) are both after local hood ‘Primo Pitt’ (Rip Torn) for various nefarious mischief (murder, kidnapping, fraud, bad manners). In between bickering, they team up and engage in over-the-top shootouts with the gangster’s minions. After $25,000,000 worth of star salaries & ego perks, production design & squib charges, delays & mishaps, 97 minutes lumber to an end. Box office tallied $38,300,000, #23 for the year: Clint’s dark Tightrope did much better, while Burt’s wobbling rep was further tarnished by The Cannonball Run II.

The plot is boring, the script only has a handful of funny scenes, the tonal jars between gags and violence don’t help, nor does setting most of it at night, in the rain. Despite his health being shaky at the time, Burt easily bests Clint with the material. It’s got a pretty good score (Lennie Niehaus) and Irene Cara does a swell job with her song numbers (decent acting, too), while others stuck in the strain include Madeline Kahn (not used enough), Jane Alexander, Richard Roundtree and Tony Lo Bianco.

Best aspect is Edward C. Carfagno’s elaborate production design. More interesting than the movie are the assorted versions of what went on behind-the-scenes, related by dueling Eastwood biographers Richard Schickel (forgiving) and Patrick McGilligan (harsh), and Reynolds autobio, “But Enough About Me”. Then there’s the stories from Edwards (disgusted) and Benjamin (resigned). Back to the show: the gags that work best come during the final mopup; one with the two stars producing increasingly larger pistols (kidding images, especially ‘Dirty Harry’), another with Reynold’s capering in a bordello, dressed as The Big Bad Wolf. For those chuckles and yocks, you pay the price sitting through the rest of it, a misfire that few involved with were pleased by.

With William Sanderson, Nicholas Worth, Robert Davi, Joan Shawlee, Hamilton Camp and Jack Nance.

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