999's "Desert Heat" went through a title change
before anyone even knew it existed. While the new title ("Desert Heat"
replacing "Coyote Moon") may be justified to the distributors for
whatever reason, they fail to realize that the change also makes the movie's
opening quotes (concerning a coyote and the powers of a full moon) to be a tad,
shall we say, nonsensical. Mind you, I'm not saying that by keeping the original
title this Jean Claude Van Damme movie could have been any better; I'm just
saying it would have made more sense. Don't even get me started on how the title
change completely destroys the movie's obsession with using coyotes as a motif.
"Desert Heat" is, if memory serves, the second
Jean-Claude Van Damme movie to go directly to video, with the first being
"Legionnaire". In fact, I didn't even know "Desert Heat"
existed until, since there was so little promotion for the title in 1999. You
could look at this in two ways: either the filmmakers were so embarrassed by the
finished product that they dumped the film immediately to video and tried not to
let anyone know, or the movie just had bad P.R. people handling the release.
Having seen the movie, I'm leaning toward the former.
Regardless, "Desert Heat" stars JCVD ("Derailed")
as an ex-Army-something-or-rather (they always are in these movies) who is on a
personal quest to deliver a special bike to an Indian friend living in some
unnamed desert town. Even though the movie takes place in the present, the
scenery reminds me of those post-apocalyptic wasteland movies that Van Damme
used to do in the beginning of his career. Before he makes it to his friend's
place, Eddie (JCVD) is accosted by three siblings who should have had Cliché
Redneck stamped on their foreheads. Eddie gets a bullet in the head and loses
his bike and his gun for the trouble.
Although left for dead, Eddie is in fact still alive,
though just barely. Johnny, the Indian friend, locates Eddie and carries him
home, where he nurses his old army buddy back to life. Eddie, who had come to
visit Johnny one last time before committing suicide, now has a new agenda: get
the bastards that took his bike. Utilizing exactly the same plot points as Akira
Kurosawa did in "Yojimbo"
and Sergio Leone later adapted in "A Fistful of Dollars", Eddie sets
off to free an unnamed desert town held in the grips of fear by the Rednecks
while getting his revenge. A lot of killing, shooting, and some minor fisticuffs
My suggestion is to go watch "Yojimbo"
instead if you're a samurai fan, or "A Fistful of Dollars" for you
western fans. "Desert Heat" was written by Tom O'Rourke, who managed
to namedrop Kurosawa's movie toward the end just in case people thought he was
ripping off Leone. The most surprising thing about "Desert Heat" is
that it's directed by John G. Avildsen, the man who made Sylvester Stallone a
star with "Rocky" in 1976 and has managed a successful and prolific
career since (including directing the first 3 "Karate Kid" movies).
What he's doing here, trying to inject class into an otherwise standard JCVD
junk, is a mystery only the then-64-year old Avildsen can answer.
Co-starring with JCVD is Pat Morita, most known as Mister
Miyagi from all 4 "Karate Kid" movies, who has the role of Odious
Comic Relief. Danny Trejo ("Con Air"), who has made quite a nice
living playing convicts or ex-convicts (and sometimes both in the same movie),
manages some chuckles as Johnny. (Although I always thought Trejo was Mexican,
not Indian.) Gabrielle Fitzpatrick is the love interest, but she has to share
the screen with the town's "hot girl" played by Jaime Pressley ("Poison
Ivy 3"). Although, in a town with only 8 people, and 3 of them are
women, does being labeled the "hot girl" really count all that much?
For a JCVD movie, "Desert Moon" has more gunplay
than it does fisticuffs. It's not an entirely bad movie; it's just poorly
conceived. The existence of the town, for instance, doesn't wash in the
contemporary world. No matter how isolated or far from civilization the town is,
law-enforcement is still a phone call away. And yet, these people (all 8 of
them, natch) allow the crooked family to push them around and extort money on a
daily basis. This situation works in a western, and even in a samurai movie, but
not in a film set in contemporary America. I guess had O'Rourke set his movie in
the west, as he probably wanted (and where the situation would make much more
sense), people would think he was stealing from Sergio Leone. Of course O'Rourke
wants us to know that he's stealing from Kurosawa and not Leone.