Body Heat is another one I was reluctant to begin, mostly because I didn’t think the film would be all that interesting to me. That, and it was directed by Lawrence Kasdan (his debut in the director’s chair, actually), who I’ll acknowledge as a good screenwriter, but haven’t seen enough good stuff from him to make the same remark toward his directing abilities. For once, in a string of surprise finds from the list, my preconceptions were right on the mark. This is a nice film, and a good (maybe even great) neo-noir, but I don’t think it was for me.
William Hurt is Ned Racine, a lawyer in Florida working during a particularly scathing heat wave. He meets married woman Matty Walker, falls for her, and successfully beds her; they quickly grow attached to each other. Of course, she is married, and soon enough, they begin to make plans to kill her husband to inherit half of his estate. Things don’t end up playing out exactly to their expectations, however, and Ned swiftly realizes how in over his head he really is. Right from the start, the film wants you to know how much this was influenced my noir films of the past, opening with a sultry and seductive jazz saxophone score playing over the opening credits. This film wears its noir influences on its sleeve openly and proudly, maybe a little too proudly; aside from the genre, there’s very little to this one. It’s well made, sure, but nothing to sneeze at, from the acting to the cinematography to the script. Even the noir elements were average at best, especially for a film made in the early 80s. Overall, there was a little too much romantic melodrama, which threatened to overpower the noir elements, and sometimes did. If that sounds like your cup of tea, give this a try, but it just never seemed to be my flavor. Additional side note: I couldn’t believe how much Ted Danson looked like Elliot Gould when he first showed up on screen. I actually double-checked the cast list in the Book to see who it really was.
Body Heat has been called by some one of the first neo-noir films, a label the film tries its hardest to earn, and earn it does. In fact, that’s basically all that this film does, and wants to do; it zeroes in on the noir influences and amps them up to eleven, almost without a care as to knowing why they should be used. It knows how to use them, all right, but there doesn’t seem to be a reason other than, “Well, that’s how the noirs do it”. I can’t really begrudge the film for doing so, but it doesn’t seem to make the film a classic for all time, or otherwise a must see. Maybe my standards were (or are) a little too idealistic, but I expected better from Kasdan’s directorial debut. This has everything a neo-noir lover would want in a film, but for me, I ended the film having continually asked the question, “Why?”, and it’s one I’m not sure the film knows how to answer.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10