In “Dead Heat” (selected theaters), Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo play a zombie cop and his jocular partner, up against a shadowy scientific syndicate that revives corpses and undead hooligans for its criminal endeavors. It’s the kind of goofy idea that might almost work: Williams plays “Roger Mortis,” a clean-cut cop who gets decompressed in a dog-execution chamber and then scientifically resurrected by the criminal’s apparatus--though only for 12 hours. For the rest of the movie, he races around like Edmond O’Brien in “D.O.A.": chasing the bad guys while slowly decomposing.
But “Dead Heat” doesn’t have enough good ideas or real spirit to sustain itself. On the screen, it seems to be like a walking corpse itself: jerking around malevolently, with putrefying limbs, a fixed, grisly smile on its face and absolutely no spontaneity. There’s one good visual gag idea: a Chinese restaurant where skinned hogs, chickens and cows--peeled and glistening--pop off their hooks and attack the two cops. And there’s one good verbal gag: Williams pulling out his credentials while his face rots away, announcing: “Detective Mortis. Homicide.”
Otherwise, Terry Black’s script is a repulsive potpourri of the bloodily obvious. It’s one more scenario based exclusively on other movie scripts, with a pseudo-hip gruesomeness that has no moral or satiric basis: full of juiceless, one-note, joylessly profane dialogue, car-crashes, slaughter and juvenile gross-outs, shish kebobbed on an empty high concept.
Most of Black’s jokes are terrible--in both senses of the word. We can tell Piscopo is meant to be snapping off zingers, because he rolls his eyes and smirks on almost every line, but most of it sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger badinage on a bad day. And Piscopo might try avoiding any more constant narcissistic pectoral T-shirt displays. Is he supposed to be the Sylvester Stallone of comedy?
Williams himself is rather good--he underplays the material, which is the only way to make it work--and Vincent Price and Keye Luke pop up briefly. But the only actor who generates any life on screen is Darren McGavin, doing another of his murderously genial motor-mouth roles.
First-time director Mark Goldblatt is--with Billy Weber and Michael Kahn--one of the best action-movie editors in Hollywood, and he’s also an admirer of film makers as disparate as Eisenstein, George Romero and Georges Franju. He’s aided here by good make-up effects by Steve Johnson. But, even if Goldblatt punches up the action scenes and ends with a homage to “Casablanca,” he can’t make any real sense out of this script, can’t rise above its gruesome, one-note, sophomoric humor. Throughout “Dead Heat” (MPAA-rated: R for sex, language and violence), he’s hung on the conceptual hook, and--unlike the undead hogs and chickens--he can’t wriggle off it.
A New World Pictures presentation. Producers Michael Meltzer, David Helpern. Director Mark Goldblatt. Script Terry Black. Music Ernest Troost. Camera Robert D. Yeoman. Editor Harvey Rosenstock. With Treat Williams, Joe Piscopo, Lindsay Frost, Darren McGavin, Vincent Price, Keye Luke.
Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes.
MPAA rating: R (under 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian).