We’ve frequently proselytized for the relative value of the DTV action-thriller here at InRO, but the truth of the matter is that, more often than not, these flicks are low-budgeted and barely released for a reason. After all, genuine talents like Jesse V. Johnson and Scott Adkins can only make so many movies in a year. The new High Heat isn’t amongst the true, bottom-of-the-barrel efforts — the cast is mostly solid, it’s got some genuine production value, and there’s credible fight choreography — but its deficiencies ultimately outweigh its virtues.
It begins promisingly enough: Chef Ana Abramov (Olga Kurylenko) is celebrating the opening of her new restaurant, a fine dining establishment that she runs with a brusque (but not cruel) efficiency. While she’s running the kitchen, husband Ray (Don Johnson) works the floor, glad-handing and otherwise charming their upper-class clientele. The grand opening is going well until a low-level gangster, Mick (Ivan Martin), stops by unannounced with some goons and tells Ray that “his time is up.” It seems that Ray has borrowed a substantial sum of money from Mick’s father, Dom (Diamond Dallas Page), who has decided to burn the place down and collect the insurance money as a guarantee on his investment. Ray tries to placate them while hiding the truth from Ana, but eventually, Dom loses his patience and sends his men in to do the deed.
Unbeknownst to them, however, Ana has stayed late in the kitchen to cook and tweak her menu. Ana is quick to intercept Don’s muscle, dispatching them and stashing the bodies in a walk-in freezer. It seems that Ray isn’t the only one with a shady past who’s keeping secrets from their spouse — that’s right, Ana is a former Russian spy with a particular set of skills, not the least of which is roughing up men twice her size. A stand-off ensues, as Dom and Mick gather in a parking lot and send wave after wave of hired muscle into the restaurant, only to see them beaten back over and over by the tenacious Ana.
This is a decent setup for a solid action flick, a woman under siege in a single location, improvising items from the kitchen as weapons to fend off attackers. But director Zach Golden and writer James Pedersen have set out to make an action-comedy, with a heavy emphasis on the comedy part of the equation. And so, in between quick bursts of fisticuffs, viewers are treated to all manner of sub-Tarantino, sub-Black banter; Mick and Dom bicker incessantly, while an entire parallel plot is introduced when Ana calls on an old comrade, Mimi (Kaitlin Doubleday), for assistance. Mimi has never forgiven Ana for abandoning their friendship when she got out of the assassin game, and decides instead to kill Ana for this perceived betrayal. Mimi packs her obnoxious teenage daughters and emasculated husband Tom (Chris Diamantopoulos) into the family car and heads to the restaurant, determined to end things with Ana once and for all.
It’s an interminable series of events, and a frustrating mix of modes, the Mimi/Tom scenes playing out like a subplot from Apatow’s This is 40 interspersed with staccato bursts of action that Golden cuts away from just as they’re getting going. Even worse is a wacky turn from Jackie Long, here playing a masseuse who gets roped into the plot and survives an encounter with Ana only to fall into the hands of Mimi. It’s a screeching, shrill performance that grates, never mind the unnecessary overkill of adding a comic relief role to a movie already replete with comedic relief. It takes a deft touch to commingle action and comedy, as well as bringing separate narrative threads together into a satisfying whole, and the filmmakers just can’t pull it off.
Johnson is having a lot of fun playing the sleazy-but-charming silver fox (the age discrepancy between him and Ana is remarked upon multiple times, presumably so that audiences don’t assume the filmmakers are ignorant of contemporary age-gap discourse), while Kurylenko acquits herself nicely in a physically demanding role. She’s been steadily carving out a nice niche for herself as an action heroine ever since Neil Marshall’s underrated Centurion, and she’s more recently starred in Julien Leclercq’s very good Sentinelle. She’s got the chops to carry this kind of movie on her own; it’s too bad she’s been saddled here with second-rate shenanigans and lame gags. Kurylenko deserves better than this — someone get her in contact with John Hyams on the double.