Thursday, July 30, 2009

Catch the Heat

The Action Mutant…
didn’t know Nixon’s dog was Jewish!

Catch the Heat

review by Joe Burrows

In reading up on Tiana Alexandra, one could make the argument that we all missed out on a great Action star (or at least another famous one). Born Thi Thanh Nga in Vietnam in 1961, Tiana moved to America when she was 15 but not before she was personally trained by Bruce Lee himself. She became involved with screenwriter Stirling Silliphant (who was 43 years her senior…yes…a nice, odd number) & was integral in many of his future projects, most notably the TV miniseries Pearl. Unfortunately for her, Catch the Heat was the peak of her career as she decided to go back to Vietnam & chronicle her (and her country’s) past in what would eventually become her 1993 documentary From Hollywood to Hanoi. She would never go back to acting and while it’s arguable if her success would have been any more prevalent, it is kind of a shame that we’ll never know. Then again, she may have never been big. Maybe it would have had something to do with her character in this film being named…

The Plot, as it was:
CHECKERS GOLDBERG (That deserves an internet acronym…here it goes…WTF?)!!! Anyway, ahem….Checkers is a hot Asian cop that revels in taking down rapists & cracking wise at her lovelorn partner Waldo Tarr (David Dukes). It is soon brought to the duo’s attention that talent magnate Jason Hannibal (Rod Steiger) is smuggling drugs out of Argentina through mysterious means, which warrants an undercover job to crack the ring. Seeing as Waldo doesn’t look good in a dress, Checkers becomes “Cinderella Pu” (Character names on Acid 101) and travels to Argentina to get in Hannibal’s good graces & to uncover the dark secret behind his operation. I would say she gets into some “deep Pu” but can I really come up with a better joke after hearing that name?

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
Despite the goofy ass names, Tiana’s astounding hotness and the eventual revelation of the secret behind the smuggling ring (which fits right in with the exploitive vibe of 80s B movie actioners), Catch the Heat doesn’t prove to be a wholly memorable tale at all. You think it would be with all I mentioned above but those are sadly the most notable elements. Though Tiana looks great in all of her various costume changes, her dialogue from the Silliphant penned script sabotages her chances at making many impressions. It doesn’t help that she has to speak stereotypic broken English in her Cinderella Pu persona for a majority of the pic (or “pigeon English” as an IMDB poster referred to it as; the kind of English Truman Capote’s character in Murder By Death would be repelled by) though it does add to the camp value quite a bit (as well as the “politically incorrect” quotient). The fact that the “pigeon English” seems to fool everyone Cinderella comes in contact with makes the gag become more annoying as it continues. Dukes puts a lot of bluster behind his lines & seems to relish his role for what it is. Surprisingly, it’s Steiger (who usually didn’t have to wait for the proverbial hat to drop to overact his ass off) that comes off nearly sedate in the heavy role. It’s almost as if he figured “Hey, I’ve never been to Argentina…sounds like a good vacation…and I get a payday out of it, too!” I doubt if Steiger going MD (20/20) on everyone would have elevated the film but it couldn’t have hurt. Though CtH is never boring, it is something you have seen before & the novelty of having a lady kung fu lead isn’t presented with enough “wow” factor to have one remember the film a few hours after they saw it.

Character/Supporting Actor Sighting!:
- Professor Toru Tanaka (The Running Man, Missing in Action 2: The Beginning) plays Hannibal’s guard Dozu. He was also “Sumo Wrestler #1” in an episode of the ABC drama Life Goes On, which really makes me curious as to what THAT episode was about (when it comes to Corky, the possibilities are endless).

Body Count/Violence: 35. Nothing unusual aside from some moderate (yet bloodless) gunplay & fighting near the end. There’s also a car chase (featuring a nifty motorcycle jump onto a flatbed truck), explosions, strangling, neck breaking & head puncturing. The best death occurs when Checkers (…seriously?) maneuvers a knife betwixt her toes during a grounded struggle & kicks it into a guy’s back. I don’t care what your name is at that point…that’s pretty cool.

Sexuality/Nudity: Tiana’s overall yumminess is first on display when she emerges from the San Francisco bay in a wet t-shirt. Strangely, I can’t remember any dialogue during that scene…Anyhow, Tiana also graces the screen in a topless shower scene & and in several cute, Asian gowns that bring the Japanese submissive fetishist out in all of us (guys, that is). There are also some shots of scantly clad models backstage at a show.

Language/Dialogue: A few F words and other mild obscenities to go around. However, none of those beats Waldo’s epic threat of “Give me a name or I’ll give you a vagina!” while interrogating a male suspect & holding a gun to his crotch.

How bad was it?:
The few reviews on Catch the Heat don’t outright bury it but do reiterate the fact that it was nothing more than a routine Action flick in a decade that churned many of them out (and yet, are still like crack to many of us still young at heart).

Did it make the studio’s day?:
Catch the Heat actually made its premiere at Cannes on 5/13/87 & was released in America in October of that year by Trans World Entertainment. No box office/budget figures are known and since few ever heard of Tiana Alexandra after this, I can safely say it wasn’t a monetary success. Maybe if her name wasn’t fucking CHECKERS!!! If you're curious, you can find the film on the MGM DVD label on for as low as $2.76.

Film: *1/2/*****
Entertainment value: ***1/2/*****

Copyright 2009 The Action Mutant.