Throughout all of filmdom, there’s some debate about when the cop buddy film actually came about. Most critics seem to accept that the contemporary version of it was a product of 1970’s and 1980’s filmmaking, and I figure that’s probably more right than wrong. If the buddy film didn’t originate somewhere in those two eras, it certainly made its most significant step forward culturally during that time. That said, JAVA HEAT feels more like the outcome of someone trying to recapture that dynamic for an all-new generation of movie-goers. While some may find that admirable, I’d just rather go back and re-watch all the great buddy films of the past than have to sit through an inferior retread any day of the week.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Jake Wilde (played with ‘beginner’s luck’ by TWILIGHT’s Kellan Lutz) is a teacher’s assistant who finds himself in the most unlikely set of circumstances one could imagine: he survived a terrorist’s bombing in Indonesia and is how having to be a witness for local detective Hashim (Ario Bayu). But Jake’s problem isn’t the attack; rather, it’s that he’s not who he says he is, and the two men will have to join forces in order to stop a terrorist named Malik (Mickey Rourke) from absconding with ‘the Crown Jewels’ and a beautiful sultan princess he intends to sell into sexual slavery!
And therein lies the chief problem behind so very much of JAVA HEAT: its patchwork story. None of these characters – not Jake, not Hashim, and not Malik – are every clearly defined so that an audience can either understand much less identify with them. First, Jake’s a teaching assistant; then he’s some international FBI terrorism expert; then he’s some AWOL military policeman. As best as I can honestly tell you, his last identity is the only one that sticks; it’s finally made perfectly clear in the film’s closing sequence, but, by that point, should I or anyone really care?
Stylistically, it’s hard figuring out what to make of JAVA HEAT. Its performances are stereotypical and predictable; its action pieces have all been done before; and its message of East triumphing over West appears as if it can only happen these days in similar cinematic fairy tales. Its story is all over the map in terms of indicting the global society on behalf of the Indonesian people, and that’s probably just what writer/director Conor Allyn intended: convince everyone that anyone but the Muslims are to blame for the shape our world is in, and you’ve done not only a good thing but also the right thing. Has he and his co-writer Rob Allyn never heard about Sharia Law? Oh, pardon me for perhaps stating the obvious because anyone with half-a-heart and a motion picture production crew knows better.
Unfortunately, so much of JAVA plays out like a bad cup of coffee. What little story there is makes no sense, and I have to wonder how much of this was actually left on the cutting room floor. I say that because there’s a scene about thirty minutes in wherein Lutz’s character says to Bayu’s character, “Hey, didn’t we do great teamwork back there?” (I’m paraphrasing.) He’s also given his Indonesian counterpart the nickname of ‘Hash’ (short for Hashim). The chief problem with this sequence is that we’ve yet to see these two actually work together in any way, shape, or form. Clearly, something has been either removed to give this exchange its meaning or something went completely unfilmed; and a competent filmmaker and/or editor would’ve noticed the obvious storytelling gaffe and actually done something to fix it so that the narrative made sense. It doesn’t, and I spent the rest of the film realizing that this may’ve been by design as the script feels like a visual stew: it’s all chocked full with scenes, plots, and characters excised from vastly superior films.
Methinks the filmmakers hope the audience isn’t watching too closely; that way, they’re much more likely to enjoy JAVA HEAT. They’ll be stupefied to the action, or the young ladies will be suffering the vapors from seeing Lutz’s naked body. Me? I just wanted it to, at some point, start to make some narrative sense. Instead, it ends up feeling about 104 minutes way too long.
JAVA HEAT is produced by Margate House Films and Margate House (???) along with some participation by IM Global and Zero Gravity Management. DVD distribution is being handled by MPI Media Group and IFC Films. As for the technical specifications, the film looks and sounds pretty solid, though there’s a measure loss of audio quality in a few scenes (not a huge distraction). Also, the film played as an “Official Selection” of the Dallas International and Taormina Film Festivals. As is often the case with these smaller releases, there are no major special features to speak of save a short ‘making of’ featurette and the theatrical trailer.
MILDLY RECOMMENDED. Despite a lack of effort, JAVA HEAT isn’t entirely a complete waste. Granted, that may not be saying much, but it’s the truth. Stylistically, it’s a throwback to a time when action films were a bit kinder and gentler. I’ve no doubt it’ll impress audiences who don’t look too closely; my problem may very well be that I do look closely, especially when it comes to storytelling. Still, this is a Hollywood wet dream: the bad guys are the Americans, the French, and the Chinese, while those Sharia-lovin’ Muslims are all just misunderstood by the rest of the world.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at IFC Films provided me with a DVD copy of JAVA HEAT by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.