Review: Java Heat (2013)

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Cast: Kellan Lutz, Ario Bayu, Mickey Rourke
Director: Conor Allyn
Country: USA
Genre: Action | Crime | Drama | Thriller
Official Trailer: Here


Editor’s Notes: Java Heat is now open in limited release. If you’ve already seen the film we’d love to hear your thoughts on it, or if you’re looking forward to seeing it this weekend, please tell us in the comments section below or in our new Next Projection Forums.

We can learn a lot about America from the constitution of its action movie heroes throughout the years. From the white-hatted purity of the Ringo Kid to the war-scarred trauma of John Rambo to the fantasy superheroism of Tony Stark, the evolution of the action hero has mirrored the evolution of the American political and cultural climate. That’s a worrying fact when faced with the meatheaded, misogynistic mentality of Java Heat and its undercover protagonist, whose pairing with an Indonesian cop to investigate terrorist bombings reveals all sorts of ideological idiocy as he careers through adversaries with chauvinistic zeal.

Kellan Lutz dons the action hero mantle with as little personality as possible, his chiselled physique more the focus of the film than any of the leaden dialogue that drops, somehow sounding even worse than on the page, from his lips. His upcoming roles include new screen incarnations of Tarzan and Hercules, which does every bit as much to attest the extent of his acting abilities as the hopelessly hammy delivery he offers here.

java4Best known as a Twilight alum—a fact keenly pointed toward when he’s offered a handful of bootleg DVDs—Kellan Lutz dons the action hero mantle with as little personality as possible, his chiselled physique more the focus of the film than any of the leaden dialogue that drops, somehow sounding even worse than on the page, from his lips. His upcoming roles include new screen incarnations of Tarzan and Hercules, which does every bit as much to attest the extent of his acting abilities as the hopelessly hammy delivery he offers here. He’s asked toward the end of the film, pinned down by the bad guy and seemingly out of options, whether he’s run out of “American tough guy insults”. Such knowing acknowledgement of generic cliché attests Java Heat’s awareness of what a bad action movie is. That it happily continues to be just that nonetheless is nothing more than audaciously lazy.

It’s little surprise, then, that the film’s plot is so senselessly awful, the driving force behind everything that takes place within the narrative never even remotely clear. Mickey Rourke, saddled with every possible indicator of absurd villainy from an incomprehensible accent to a penchant for young boys, manages somehow to be even more of a comic book bad guy than he was in Iron Man 2, a more appropriate point of comparison than ever it should be thanks to the ridiculous return of his relationship with a pet bird. Why Rourke sees fit to waste his talents in sub-par action efforts is a mystery indeed; even cast against animals, he struggles to make much of an impression.

Mickey Rourke, saddled with every possible indicator of absurd villainy from an incomprehensible accent to a penchant for young boys, manages somehow to be even more of a comic book bad guy than he was in Iron Man 2, a more appropriate point of comparison than ever it should be thanks to the ridiculous return of his relationship with a pet bird.

java3There’s a point in the film where Ario Bayu, playing a native cop, impressively restrains Lutz with a snappy display of martial arts, swiftly revealed to be of the Pencak Silat discipline, perhaps most familiar to audiences from last year’s The Raid. How foolish a thing, for an action movie so relentlessly adherent to exhausted formula to invoke the thought of one so inventive, so exciting, so good. Java Heat has none of the tension, none of the skill, none of the wit, and none of the fun of a film like The Raid, nor even the slightest trace of a stirring set piece. For as much as whatever small semblance of director Conor Allyn’s talents reside predominantly in the staging of his action sequences, these remain—as with the rest of the movie—all too reliant on well-worn tropes to be anything more than mildly distracting. Perhaps the highlight of the film’s action comes in a scene that culminates in a spot of impromptu jousting, a progression as toe-curlingly stupid as is the self-congratulatory middle finger Lutz tosses up to his adversary immediately after.

So often does Java Heat acknowledge its own multitude of problems that it’s easy to mistake its dearth of quality for ironic awfulness. But no: this is not a movie revelling in typical action idiocy for the sake of comic self-awareness, but rather a terrible film that knows it and can’t afford the energy to try to make amends. Veering madly from buddy cop territory to action riffing not even on Die Hard, but on Live Free or Die Hard, it ticks every box on the generic checklist with an accountant’s precision. Its greatest issue, though, is not how wholly uninteresting it is—that’s a crime many a movie commits, more pitiful than perilous—but how oafishly proud of itself it is, as it offers Lutz a protracted speech lamenting how gung-ho foreign policy has been quite costly to him too. As he weeps—or rather badly attempts to portray a man weeping—for a fallen friend, we can only weep for the awful and untrue portrait of America this action nonsense paints.

[notification type=”star”]30/100 ~ AWFUL. So often does Java Heat acknowledge its own multitude of problems that it’s easy to mistake its dearth of quality for ironic awfulness. But no: this is not a movie revelling in typical action idiocy for the sake of comic self-awareness, but rather a terrible film that knows it and can’t afford the energy to try to make amends.[/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.