Taking The Heat

Director:Tom Mankiewicz                      
Tony Goldwyn, Lynn Whitfield, Alan Arkin

It's funny in movies when it comes to interracial romance, at least when it concerns black/white romances. Before explaining that, it's necessary to look at the statistics of such relationships in real life. Statistics have shown that black male/white female relationships are about twice the number of white male/black female relationships. So it stands to reason that if you looked at all the movies that had black/white interracial romances, there would be two movies with black male/white female relationships to every one movie that had a white male/black female relationship. However, it's my observation that the number of movies with black male/white female relationships far outweigh the number of movies with white male/black female relationships. much beyond the real life 2 to 1 ratio.

Why is that? I honestly don't know for certain. I'm not sure if this is the place to discuss such a  potentially touchy topic, so I won't discuss it further. Besides, I just needed a topic to open up this review and this topic is kind of appropriate for my review of Taking The Heat. That's because it's one of those rare movies to have a white male/black female relationship. Of course, the movie isn't centered around the subject of good ol' hot interracial romance, but is instead an actioner, where the central roles could be filled by people of any color. It's not one of those actioners that you'll remember for a long time afterwards - in the long run it is a pretty forgettable film. It does deliver enough entertainment while it's playing, making it a satisfying 90 minute break in your life.

The plot seems derived from the remake of Narrow Margin. In New York, it's a surprisingly snow-free Christmas, except for some melting slush piled against the curb when we see Mr. Valentine's sports store, where Michael Norell (Goldwyn) rushes in at the last minute before closing time to get the ski equipment he ordered. While Valentine runs his credit card through, Michael goes into the back to take a whiz. After draining the snake, he hears some commotion out front, and peeking through the curtains in the doorway, witnesses mob boss Tommy Canard (Arkin) practicing his golf swing on Valentine's head in retaliation for not paying up his debt. Freaked out, Michael is tempted to just leave things alone after Canard leaves, but the nagging voice in his head finally gets him to call the cops. However, he decides to change the story to having himself just walking in and finding Valentine's body, telling this to patrolwoman Carolyn Hunter (Whitfield). In an extremely funny sequence, he tries telling this version to her, managing to make a fool out of himself with his stammering and realizing his mistakes as she keeps questioning him, trying desperately to backtrack.

Though Goldwyn has almost all of the dialogue here, it is actually Whitfield that shines here, and elsewhere in the movie. Yes, this is yet another example of what I said last week in Invader - that in white/black buddy movies, the black actor (here, actress) gives the better performance. As Goldwyn's character blabbers away, her face slowly shows more and more amusement, and her expressions and limited dialogue in this scene make it clear that her character realizes that this goofy yuppie knows a lot more than he's telling her. Her role gives her a lot to do in the movie, not just amusement; Whitfield has to get angry, show compassion, act street smart, blow away scum, and starting right after the interview scene (jumping into the summer), the now-detective wears an outfit that, yeow!, makes her look hot! She is not only believable in all of these things her character does, but she also makes the transition between her actions believable. There's nothing wrong with her character at all, especially when wearing that outfit!...

Goldwyn shows he isn't a bad actor himself, when he has a quiet moment or when his character takes something very seriously. After witnessing the murder, he has a noteworthy scene where his character is absolutely stunned, silent and moving slowly around, not sure what to do. Unfortunately, the screenplay then has his character from this point on to about halfway through the movie be really obnoxious. Yes, Goldwyn is convincing as a yuppie who is prone to jumping the gun in this part of the movie, but his character's stupidity, believable as it is and in the situations he's in, still can't help but make us groan out loud. As a result, even though he's acting well with what he's given, he falls in our eyes because of his character's idiotic actions. He does manage to recover somewhat when his character starts taking the situation more seriously, having both a number of quiet moments and times when he is struggling for his life. Also, at any moment during the movie, whether he is obnoxious or serious, he generates great chemistry with Whitfield, reassuring us that we'll be rewarded with some good ol' hot interracial romance.

You probably by now have some idea where the movie's story is going. Several months later, during a heat wave that is driving the city into chaos, blackouts, and dead phone lines, detective Hunter is assigned to bring in Michael to the court hearing of Tommy Canard after the feeble-minded D.A.'s office finally figures out that Michael witnessed Canard killing Valentine. Naturally, she is not eager to see this goofball again, but the other cops are up to their armpits in the trouble breaking out around the city, so she reluctantly agrees. Of course, Canard gets wind of this surprise witness coming to the hearing, so at the same time he calls in his boys to permanently silence Michael. And, of course, that leads to the bulk of the movie, where Michael and detective Hunter are shot at and chased all over the city while Hunter tries to keep Michael from running off.

We've seen this general idea done in other movies before (not just Narrow Margin), though Taking The Heat at least doesn't pretend it's original, and it does execute the formula fairly well. The Toronto locations chosen for the movie actually do pass themselves off as New York, and the action moves at a quick enough pace so that we are taken to a number of wildly different locations, which result in not only a variety of action, but generating a variety of humorous situations, such as one sequence where the two hide out in a gay bar. Intercut with these comic encounters are scenes at the courthouse, with the impatient yet sympathetic judge (Peter Boyle) uttering some hilarious one-liners. There is a lot of humor in this movie, but sometimes it's a bit hard to laugh. For one thing, do we need another stereotyped East Indian convenience mart owner? Also, the extreme violence in the movie stays in our mind, and makes any subsequent attempts at humor sometimes just seemingly... wrong. The action scenes are well done - the shoot-outs, hand-to-hand fights, chases, etc. are all high-impact and exciting. But when you remember someone getting his legs crushed by a speeding van while standing with his back against the dead end of an alley, or someone else getting impaled in their crotch, these unforgettable gruesome sequences make it at times hard to laugh at the humor the movie offers.

There are still some funny moments, and the effective action sequences (and the variety of them) and Whitfield's performance certainly didn't make me regret renting Taking The Heat. Maybe it's a bit too formula-driven to stay in your mind for years to come, but it does at least give you the entertainment you desire right at the moment. And there is also a good dose of good ol' hot interracial romance, so your watching this movie will help strike a blow against racism.

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See also: Automatic, Overkill, Sword Of Honor