An Extra by Adam-Troy Castro
Yesterday, flipping channels, I found myself in the middle of of a not-very-good movie I haven’t thought about in years: City Heat, starring Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds. (It also features Madeline Kahn, laboring hard as her usual insufferable woman, Jane Seymour as Burt’s plucky secretary, and Rip Torn as the bad guy. Nobody can say it skimps on the casting department.)
I was intrigued enough to watch for a little while.
And, no, it’s not worth seeing again. It was gamey then, and still is, though in this era of truly horrendous action films, it looks far better than it did
But it remains an interesting historical artifact, in that at the time it was made the two male leads were the two biggest movie stars in the world, and their teaming was a major draw. Since that time, Eastwood’s iconic stature has only grown, to the point that his trailer about a grumpy old guy who warns gang members off his lawn can still make theatre audiences excited with anticipation, whereas Reynolds has become a guy who used to be a movie star and will play a bit part in anything, including some jhaw-droppingly awful direct-to-video pictures, to remind you of that.
Why? Well, part of it has to do with Eastwood’s many achievements as a director; part of it has to do with the fact that he made far fewer movies and that many more of thosewere good ones, whereas Reynolds’s best work can be counted on the fingers of one hand and still leave a digit or two left over. (There’s Deliverance, and Boogie Nights, and, um, Breaking In, and Sharky’s Machine, and…um, well, Hooper wasn’t all that bad, and, um…see, it’s already getting hard.)
But then there’s this.
It’s not just hindsight when I say that you can watch City Heat and see the signs that their careers are already aiming at opposite trajectories.
Burt Reynolds gets his ass kicked during a brawl in a diner and, covered in thugs, begs Eastwood for help; Eastwood calmly drinks his coffee, not stirring himself to interfere until a collision spills his drink, at which point the camera zooms in on Eastwood’s scowl and you know the thugs are about to be history.
Burt Reynolds gets involved in a major shootout in the middle of a city street. He fires from hiding, but the bad guys have pinned him down. Eastwood arrives and just walks down the center of the street, scary as hell, blowing them away without once getting hit himself, while Reynolds wonders how the hell he does that.
The protagonists team up to rescue the ladies from a mobster. Reynolds shows up wearing a gorilla or bear suit (I stopped watching, this time, before the climax; but I remember that it was one of the two). Eastwood just storms the castle in street clothes.
There’s more. It’s as if the movie set out to emasculate the Reynolds character while drawing a circle around Eastwood’s.
And there’s this.
Reynolds is just a good-looking guy reading lines. He has some comic timing and some screen presence, but there’s nothing particularly special about him, not here. Eastwood…well, even in a subpar film like this one, you can’t atke your eyes off him.
The odd thing is that the makers of City Heat seemed to know it.