I believe Mickey Rourke to be one of the greatest actors of his generation. Thought to be the second coming of Brando in the 1980s, he turned in incendiary performances in such films as The Pope of Greenwich Village, Diner and Barfly. His career – and physical appearance – suffered a major setback in the ’90s, forcing him to take roles in lesser movies until his salvation appeared to have come in the form of his Oscar-nominated performance in The Wrestler. His appearance, therefore, in Conor Allyn’s messy Java Heat is especially sad because he did not coast on the success of that performance but rather backslid into roles not meriting his talent.
Java Heat is a complete waste of Rourke, as he phones it in as French-accented terrorist, inexplicably named Malik, who is up against American FBI Agent/Marine Jake (Kellan Lutz) and Indonesian cop Hashim (Ario Bayu) in the quest to recover the kidnapped Sultana of Java (Atiquah Hasiholan). While the film has decently directed action sequences and colorful, bustling crowd scenes filmed on location in Indonesia, the plot is extremely silly and predictable and features more than a few tasteless moments. And while Lutz is adequately ripped to front an action film, he does not a leading man make.
Jake comes to Java, Indonesia under the guise of being a grad school TA at Cornell who is researching for a paper on Art History, but he’s really investigating a string of terrorist attacks. When he’s seen as the last person talking to the Sultana at a party just before she is thought to have been blown up by a suicide bomber, he is taken into the local police station by Hashim who quickly sees the cracks in Jake’s TA persona. Eventually the seemingly opposite Jake and Hashim team up and realize that the Sultana isn’t dead at all and that she is being made prisoner by Malik for unknown reasons.
Starting with the positives, Allyn (who co-wrote with his father, Rob Allyn) is capable of directing a nicely paced action sequence. Jake and Hashim throw themselves from buildings to escape various explosions or chase bad guys, and they seldom the camera keeps up with their swift actions creating a palpable sense of urgency. Allyn also profits a lot from the colorful, busy Indonesian markets and city settings, which provide an intriguing backdrop to the various chase scenes. Interiors, especially Malik’s dwelling, feature detailed production design and look authentic.
And those are the positives.
The film starts off like some sort of neo-noir which is almost promising, and when we flash back to the actual party it appears as if a secret romance is about to unfold. Instead, we go back to the present and stay there, forsaking any implied storytelling format that might have been alluded to. There is predictable twist after predictable twist. The reveal, just short of a quarter of the way through, that Jake is not what he seems is incredibly easy to see coming. Also, Jake and Hashim start off hating each other – they even bicker about the benefits of being gluten-free. But of course they grow to be besties for life. If only this film were re-cut to be a neo-noir and not a buddy cop drama, it might have been slightly better.
This is meant to be a Lutz vehicle as he’s the major hero here, and yes he’s buff as all hell but he reads lines like a jock forced to be in a high school play. He’s vaguely good-looking and comes off as fairly likable, but it’s hard to engage with such a neanderthal of a leading man. His character here has a somewhat tragic backstory, but his character’s attitude toward women isn’t going to win him any points.
For instance, the worst thing said in this movie, or perhaps any movie I have seen this year, occurs when Jake and Hashim are looking at a burned up body thought to be the Sultana. Jake questions her identity by asking “What does the Koran say about a woman piercing her clit?” Wow. That one line in particular is in such extreme poor taste and quite shocking to hear. I’m no prude when it comes to movies, but that is so incredibly derogatory to women.
In case we all forgot Lutz is in the Twilight movies, his character is asked if he wants to buy some bootleg Twilight DVDs in one of the market scenes.
Which brings us to Rourke, who, unlike Lutz is an excellent actor and able to emote like no other. There’s a hint of this here as he gives the Sultana a bath, wetting her down delicately with a sponge held by his manicured, catcher’s mitt of a hand. This is just a taste of Rourke’s trademark intricate hand gestures and innate genteel nature in comparison to his burly exterior. He does use a broken French accent, for seemingly no reason, which is hugely distracting and half-heartedly executed. Rourke probably knew he was in a stinker and didn’t bother trying all that much, which given his incredible talent and past credits is really disheartening to watch. We also get little to no motivation as to why Malik kidnaps the princess. Is he an anarchist? What internal demons is he battling? Few answers are given which is a major fault since the villains are often the most intriguing characters.
Watching Rourke, with said hand gestures and his flashy wardrobe of suits, is intriguing unto itself, but that’s just him doing him, not because of any sort of plot of character development. Java Heat suffers from not making the proper use of talent like Rourke, but also giving too much weight to the non-talent of Lutz. And, of course, it suffers from not making all that much sense and being pretty damn offensive at times.
The Upside: Well shot action sequences and nicely photographed crowd scenes and interiors
The Downside: Kellan Lutz is not the greatest leading man; some really offensive moments; an overall predictability; near lack of plot or character development; sad to see Mickey Rourke phoning it in
On the Side: Lutz is slated to play the title role in the upcoming Tarzan. Makes sense.