Talk About a “Drug Bust!”
DIRECTED BY JOEL SILBERG/1987
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: AUGUST 2, 2022/SCORPION RELEASING via KINO LORBER
“Catch the Heat” is a rather generic-sounding late-‘80s action movie title, and also frustratingly hard to remember. I keep wanting to call it “Catch the Fire”, which, when you think about it, makes much more sense. Things catch fire all the time, but how can anyone catch “heat”?
That’s just one example of the level of thought that did not go into the making of this 1987 Argentine-American Tiana Alexandra-starring martial arts/cop potboiler. Who, you ask, is Tiana Alexandra? I must admit I was unfamiliar with this particular talent prior to viewing this film. She is:
A.) A Vietnamese action star (here playing Chinese) of this film only, although she also had a role in Sam Peckinpah’s 1975 actioner The Killer Elite.
B.) The first female to ever be personally trained by Bruce Lee.
C.) The wife of the late Oscar-winning screenwriter Stirling Silliphant (In the Heat of the Night; The Towering Inferno; Charley) who also, rather inexplicably, wrote Catch the Heat.
D.) Kinda grating in this.
That’s not a multiple-choice quiz. All of the above are true. A quick consultation with her filmography reveals that although Ms. Alexandra was only in a scant handful of movies, more than one of those was written by her respected screenwriter husband. Still going today, she’s long ago shifted her passion to the altruistic documentation of the post-Vietnam War plight of her home country. That led to her 1992 autobiographical documentary From Hollywood to Hanoi. All of that is obviously for the greater good, the admitted least of which is the assurance that Catch the Heat would never be sequel-ized. (Although, the way sequels come together these days, I suppose it’s literally never too late).
The presence of the great Rod Steiger as the villain of Catch of Heat may suggest a certain prestige for the project. Such a perception would be incorrect. Many years ago, in another career, I worked on professional film sets. One was the low budgeted third film in the Shiloh dog series. Mr. Steiger had a nice supporting role in the first two films, and we were told he would’ve been in ours had he not died a few years prior. Part of my job was to Photoshop the current cast members into a set photo of Steiger in costume from one of the earlier movies. It was something of a minor honor to do that, and our film, Saving Shiloh, turned out all right. But still, a part of me wondered what brought an actor of Rod Steiger’s heft and legacy to a humble series such as Shiloh. Had I known of his kinda sad presence in something like Catch the Heat, I wouldn’t have asked. Each life plays out over a course of peaks and valleys. For Rod Steiger, I now see that the valleys could be as low as the peaks were high.
In the story, Alexandra plays feisty undercover karate-kicking cop Checkers Goldberg. Her smart-mouthed partner, a tall pasty-white drink of water played by David Dukes (Rawhead Rex), is called Waldo Tarr. And… okay. Right there, we see just how seriously the great Stirling Silliphant was taking this gig. Which is, NOT MUCH. “Checkers Goldberg”? “Waldo Tarr”? The most infamous line in the film arrives early on as Waldo Tarr threatens a would-be rapist’s crotch at gunpoint: “Give me a name or I’ll give you a vagina!” Yeah. Not serious.
So, does that mean Catch the Heat is actually a comedy? If that’s supposed to be the case, then it really needs work. Granted, Alexandra does sport some pretty outrageous late-‘80s exploding feathered hair and a totally bitchin’ wardrobe. Funny stuff… now. Also, this is the kind of movie where a parked car will immediately burst into flames when an embattled truck careening down the street scrapes past it. And, while the notion of boobs will always have comedic appeal, Steiger’s plan to smuggle cocaine inside of implanted breast implants lands somewhere on the remote outskirts of “funny”. What’s sad is the great actor’s face (his character, by the way, is called “Jason Hannibal”. Most obvious villain ever.) as he is forced to explain what breast implants are to the uncover and ace-bandaged Checkers, who’s posing as a very naïve flat-chested dancer for his talent agency front. He just looks defeated, wearing his bargain-basement fake hair while explaining why silicone is an ideal material.
Despite all the breast talk, no such skin is exposed in this R-rated outing, save a prolonged scene of Checkers in a very transparent wet t-shirt, not caring one bit. The violence isn’t exactly hard-hitting. Our tough-talking heroine may be impressively flexible and a formidable martial artist, but it’s pretty obvious that none of her strikes are connecting, and even if they did, they’re not delivered with any strength. When she takes down the formidable brick wall of an assassin that is embodied by Professor Toru Tanaka (Subzero in 1987’s The Running Man), it’s not exactly convincing.
A final confession for this review: not only had I no prior familiarity with Tiana Alexandra, but I’d never even heard of Catch the Heat. In all my many hours of combing video rental shops back in the day, I do not recall ever encountering this title. But then again, maybe it was around, just under one of its many aliases. (The movie has also been known as Feel the Heat, Sin escape and Narcotraficantes. Can’t say those titles ring a bell, either). In any case, there’s not much worth holding onto with Catch the Heat. KL Studio Classics, with its new slipcovered Blu-ray edition, doesn’t give us much reason for lingering on the movie. Besides a trailer for the film and a few others, the only other extra feature is a very quick and punchy vintage VHS preview clip, the kind of thing that would cycle through on an endless loop in mom & pop video stores. For whatever it’s worth, this perpetually visually cluttered movie looks altogether decent in high definition. Whether that’s motivation enough to catch Catch the Heat on Blu-ray is, of course, all on you.