THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Wednesday, December 20, 1995 TAG: 9512200038 SECTION: DAILY BREAK PAGE: E4 EDITION: FINAL TYPE: Movie Review SOURCE: BY MAL VINCENT, MOVIE CRITIC LENGTH: Medium: 77 lines
SPARKED MORE BY stunning technical virtuosity than the much-anticipated acting duel between its two superstars, ``Heat'' is the best urban-action movie to come along in quite a long time. It has a shoot-out scene that rivals anything in the genre in both artillery and noise.
The casting of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro would appear to be the initial draw. Movie buffs have been arguing for years about which is the better actor, although both groups of fans agree that the two are at the top of the still-new generation. Pacino and De Niro were both in ``The Godfather, Part II,'' but they had no scenes together. It's almost the same here.
The ``acting duel'' is something of a washout. They have only one real scene together and, even though it is a moment of screen mastery, it is brief.
You get two movies for one here, the separate stories of a cop and the criminal he pursues.
Pacino is Vincent Hanna, a workaholic Los Angeles lieutenant of detectives who is obsessed with capturing Neil McCauley, a hardened, professional criminal, played by De Niro. In a superb job of cross-editing, director Michael Mann cuts back and forth between the two men's worlds as they come closer and closer together.
Mann is the hyper director of ``Last of the Mohicans'' and the flashy TV series ``Miami Vice.'' Clearly, he likes to keep things moving. Only his artful haste keeps us from realizing that this is nothing more than the same plot we've seen dozens of times before.
This is a markedly masculine film with guys playing with their bang-'em-up toys. The women wait in the background. Foremost among them is Diane Venora, who puts in a fine performance as Pacino's third wife. Amy Brenneman adds some softness to De Niro's life (she doesn't know his occupation).
Val Kilmer, taking a step backward from any stardom he reached with the overdone ``Batman Forever,'' is wasted as the youthful member of De Niro's gang. So is Ashley Judd as his harpy wife. Jon Voight, as another member of the gang (a long time since ``Midnight Cowboy''), merely looks ravaged.
Things almost get off track with pointless subplots such as a crooked Wall Street type and a serial killer (Haven't we had enough of serial killers on screen this year?).
Pacino rages and rants, flailing the air and strutting like a rooster. He seemingly wins the acting duel easily, as a man who has nothing to give emotionally because he's given it all to his job.
In contrast, De Niro underplays. He says little. He murmurs and he appears to be thinking, allowing Al to have the noise.
The De Niro/Pacino scene, a challenge leveled in a quiet coffee shop, is a gem. The finale, a showdown on an airfield, is tame in comparison. Mann seemingly couldn't quite figure how to end the film.
The movie is lacking in both heart and soul, but it makes up for it with sheer voyeurism. If only it had more depth and original plot, it could have been a masterpiece. ILLUSTRATION: FRANK CONNOR, WARNER BROS.
Robert De Niro, left, is a top-level, cold-blooded thief whose crew
includes Val Kilmer.
Cast: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Tom
Sizemore, Diana Venora, Amy Brenneman, Ashley Judd, Wes Studi,
Natalie Portman, Henry Rollins, Tone Loc, Bud Cort
Director and Writer: Michael Mann
Music: Elliot Goldenthal
MPAA rating: R (violence, language)
Mal's rating: three stars
Locations: Chesapeake Square, Greenbrier in Chesapeake; Janaf,
Main Gate in Norfolk; Kemps River, Lynnhaven 8, Pembroke,
Surf-N-Sand in Virginia Beach