#188 Body Heat

(1981, Lawrence Kasdan)

“You shouldn’t wear that body”

Lawrence Kasdan is a pretty decent screenwriter when he works with collaborators. I enjoyed his work on the Indiana Jones movies, and The Empire Strikes Back was the best in the Star Wars franchise. But when he works alone, he tends to be a little clumsy, as I discovered in The Big Chill. But did he fare much better in his directorial debut, an attempt to revive the film noir genre, Body Heat?

Body Heat focuses on a slightly inept and very sleazy lawyer named Ned Racine (William Hurt), who meets an attractive woman named Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner), who is married to the somewhat shady businessman Edmund Walker. Ned and Matty begin an affair that they go to great lengths to try and hide. However, things take a darker turn when they decide that the way to safely continue to pursue their relationship is to kill off Matty’s husband. Cue a web of deceptions and shady dealings and all that fun stuff.

So let’s talk about this affair, which was central to the whole movie. My main issue with it revolved around the fact that it began very clumsily. I can accept the two of them flirting awkwardly in public places, since there’s no other way to really pull this off. The real issue comes from the fact that the relationship sparks from Ned being a creepy sexual predator, following her back to her home and insisting on seeing her wind chimes (yes really) before rushing at her and leaping into her pants before she has a chance to say no. The whole thing came across as disturbing and didn’t really help to make the audience identify with our protagonist.

OK, it fits with the character anyway, since the guy is meant to be sleazy and somewhat unlikeable, but the way he practically forces himself on her feels too much like rape to make the affair work in any realistic manner, since the movie then shifts to presenting Matty as the one in control of the whole affair. Bit difficult to believe that when she wasn’t the one doing the pursuing, and there were no hints that she was planning on luring him in either.

I also found the movie fairly dull during the earlier parts of the movie. With the affair clumsily kicking around centre stage with characters that were unlikeable and uninteresting, it’s hard to get into the movie at first. There are mildly entertaining near-misses where they’re almost discovered, including an uncomfortable impromptu dinner with Matty’s husband or when Matty’s young niece catches them in the act, but other than that, a good part of the movie is dedicated to the two lounging around naked talking in hushed tones.

It also didn’t help that the movie absolutely loved to keep pointing out its own name, by making constant references to how hot it was. Characters are frequently drenched in sweat and there’s a conversation about the weather every five minutes. If I wanted to see endless conversations about the weather, I’d go to any public place in Britain, and if I wanted to see people looking this sweaty constantly, I’d go to a gym.

When the talk of murder sneaks in, however, the movie does start to pick up a little. The movie becomes messy in the most glorious way, with the police adding a new difficulty to the affair, and the duo constantly trying to cover their tracks. Matty’s behaviour gets a lot more suspicious and the level of mystery and intrigue lifts right up. And, as I’ve mentioned before, I love me some intrigue and mystery.

There are a ton of twists and turns at this point in the movie, and I enjoyed most of them except the very last one regarding Matty’s identity. I’m not going to spoil it, but while every other twist followed some kind of logical progression, this last one felt a little out of nowhere, and seemed to raise more questions about its logic rather than adequately wrap up the film. The way it’s dropped in also felt like it was a last-minute addition to the script than something that needed to be there.

Body Heat is a pretty decent film noir throwback, but it’s a little awkwardly paced at times, leaves a few plot holes far too open and spending too much time lounging around naked and drenched in sweat to be an amazing movie. It’s watchable, but fairly average. And pretty much proves that Lawrence Kasdan does better work as a screenwriter in a team than in the director’s chair.

Starring William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Richard Crenna, Ted Danson, J.A. Preston & Mickey Rourke
Written by Lawrence Kasdan
Produced by Fred T. Gallo, Robert Grand and (uncredited) George Lucas
Music by John Barry
Cinematography by Richard H. Kline
Edited by Carol Littleton

Favourite Scene: The will reading scene was pretty tense and started raising questions about who Matty is and what she really wants.
Scene That Bugged Me: How to convince a woman to sleep with you: break into her house, grab her and start forcing yourself on her. WORKS EVERY TIME.

Watch it if: You want to see Kathleen Turner naked.
Avoid it if: You really don’t want to sit through 45 minutes of a couple lounging around doing nothing

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Posted on May 29, 2013, in 1980s, Crime, Film Noir, Thriller and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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