It’s hard to find words to describe this bizarre, nonsense infested, horribly hilarious action movie. Joel Silberg’s Catch The Heat isn’t just an obscure 1987 action film. It’s a story to tell your friends.
Checkers Goldberg (Tiana Alexandra) is a federal agent. I’m assuming this because the movie never really spells it out. I seem to recall a scene toward the end where they talk about her heading up a department at the F.B.I. But with a movie like Catch The Heat it’s hard to tell what’s a memory and what’s the joke you thought of while watching it.
According to Wikipedia Tiana Alexandra was a protege of Bruce Lee. It’s a film with much fighting, but most of it is street brawling with a few kicks here and there. As the only woman trained by Bruce Lee, you would expect a better project. Although considering she is both Vietnamese and a woman I guess we’re lucky we got what we did.
There’s almost never a dull moment. There’s also almost never a coherent moment. The movie has scenes where characters go through every emotion possible as well as a few new ones.
It blurs the lines of racial identity by having a Vietnamese actor play a half-Chinese Half-Jewish character who goes undercover as a Taiwanese dancer. Her undercover identity of Cinderella Pu is wildly stereotypically racist. We’d be offended if the movie or the character came anywhere close to existing somewhere near a reality we recognized.
Tiana Alexandra spends most of her time overacting, veering into near pantomime at times. This is due in large part to her lack of experience rather than lack of talent. Amazingly enough in this absurd topsy-turvy movie, she’s an absolute ball to watch.
The chemistry between Checkers and her partner the equally improbably named Waldo Tarr (David Dukes) might be the high point of the movie for me. The scene where Waldo accidentally lets slip his obvious love for Checkers must be seen to be believed. It’s a scene that’s been written and performed a thousand times but with less profanity and better acting. But never has it been done with a character quite like Checkers Goldberg.
The main thrust of the film involves Jason Hannibal (Rod Steiger). He’s running a drug mule operation out of his Argentina talent agency by convincing his dancers to get breast implants. Checkers goes undercover to infiltrate his operation. To add insult to injury, and pointless convolutions to the plot, she must wear a binder.
Steiger sleepwalks through the movie in a wig, so awful many on the internet swore it had to be a plot device. It is not. Steiger’s listlessness and glassy-eyed demeanor may have more to do with his battle with depression than anything else.
If you’ve never seen Rod Steiger before I implore you to see Elia Kazan’s On The Waterfront or Norman Jewison’s In The Heat Of The Night. His performances there are explosive and layered. In both, he is up against the likes of Marlon Brando and Sidney Poitier. He holds his own against both.
The one refreshing aspect of all this is that Checkers rarely needs saving. Outside of the opening sequence what scrapes she gets into she gets herself out of. Whether it’s the world’s slowest awkward rooftop chase scene as she chases down Ike (John Hancock). Or if it’s the impromptu wrassling match with Dozu (Professor Toru Tanaka), Checkers proves time and time again Waldo is clearly just there to look pretty.
There’s a low-speed car chase about midway through the move. One of the cars gently grazes a parked truck causing said truck to explode into a fireball. Joel Silberg clearly had a budget of well over fifty dollars, and it’s all on screen. If nothing else the movie has helped me with my film reviews. It’s given me a guiding philosophical question: Can what I’m watching be improved more or less if the main character was Checkers Goldberg?
Catch The Heat is a glorious, cheaply made mess. It does almost nothing right except make sure the actors are in the middle of the frame, more or less. Then again I’ve seen some big budget studio films that did that as well but were not nearly as enjoyable. But they didn’t have Checkers Goldberg and were poorer for it.