Ah, the buddy cop movie. It seems like Hollywood has been mismatching cop teams for ages. The strange combinations are endless! One’s by-the-book, one’s a nutcase (“Lethal Weapon”)…one’s an American, one’s a Russian (“Red Heat”)…one’s a neat freak, one’s a slobbering dog (“Turner and Hooch”). Today’s forgotten film may have one of the strangest combinations: one’s a maverick cop, one’s dead. It’s 1988’s “Dead Heat.”
The film begins with cops Doug Bigelow (Joe Piscopo) and Roger Mortis (Treat Williams) being called to the scene of a jewel robbery. Things go bad quickly when the thieves come out and start showering the cops with bullets. Yet, no matter how much return fire the cops send their way, these crooks seem to just brush it off. Eventually, Roger and Doug are able to take these creeps out, but there’s a problem. When the bodies end up in the morgue, hot coroner chick Rebecca (Clare Kirkconnell) recognizes that she’s performed autopsies on these guys before. She also notices a high amount of some made up chemical in their systems. This leads our detectives to a company that has purchased a lot of the stuff.
When they arrive, the detectives are shown around by PR chick Randi (Lindsay Frost). When Doug gets a bit too nosey, he is attacked by a zombie biker dude. After all, what’s a medical research facility without a zombie biker dude hanging around? During the fight, Roger gets locked in a decompression room. The air is sucked out and Roger ends up dead.
Lucky for old Roger, the company not only has zombies and decompression chambers, but also a resurrection machine. When Rebecca starts messing around with the machine, she manages to bring Roger back to life. Now, he and Doug need to figure out who’s been creating zombies to commit crimes. But, they only have about 12 hours to do it before Roger decomposes into dust.
“Dead Heat” is an interesting curiosity considering the presence of Joe Piscopo. Alongside Eddie Murphy, he was a breakout star on Saturday Night Live in the early 80’s. But whereas Murphy went on to movie superstardom, Piscopo made very few films. The material he has to work with here is below B or even C grade stuff, but most of the movie’s better moments come courtesy of Piscopo. He seems to approach the material with a sly wink to the audience. Treat Williams, on the other hand, just doesn’t seem to be able role with it. I feel weird saying this, but he’s just not believable as a zombie.
The biggest problem, though, is that the movie has a lot working against it. The chief problem is that it can’t find a good balance between the comedic elements and the horror. There are a quite a few gross out moments, and I mean gross! Maybe it’s just me, but it’s hard for my brain to switch back to comedy after seeing Lindsay Frost turn into goo. Comedy and gore can work together (case in point “Shaun of the Dead”), but this film struggles to find the right tone.
Also casting a dark cloud over this one is seeing the great Vincent Price wasted in what would be one of his last roles. His part feels tacked on. Of course, Price was a master when it came to mixing elements of comedy and horror in his performances. Had he been given more of a chance to do that, it may have helped the film find that right balance of laughs and scares.
“Dead Heat” has its moments, but it lacks focus. Not funny enough to call comedy, not scary enough to call horror…and just plain weird as a buddy cop flick.