Review: Java Heat

A middling genre movie, but it’s oddly likable for its conflicted, unresolved tension.

Java Heat
Photo: IFC Films

Java Heat adheres to the reliable guidelines of the buddy-cop movie. The rules are invitingly simple. A white cop, or some other vague official who can somewhat logically carry a gun in public, is paired with a not-white cop, or some other vague official who can somewhat logically carry a gun in public. The two bicker with one another while chasing a variety of bad guys, usually because the white guy wants to shoot people first and ask questions never, while the not-white guy would rather honor petty social irritations such as the constitutionally allotted principle of due process. For an hour or so, these films usually pretend to be sympathetic to the not-white guy’s methods, but eventually his (rarely her) fealty to bureaucratic nonsense must be discarded so that righteous ass can be kicked.

In the 1970s and particularly the 1980s, American filmmakers would spin fantasies of vigilante justice with remarkably little irony, but today’s action directors, mindful of 9/11 and every war it spurned, as well as the flames of gun-control furor stoked by your weekly mass shooting, must be more careful (unless the film in question features a superhero, then you can do whatever the hell you want). Today’s American action films still ultimately affirm the notion of taking the law into your own hands, normally in the service of providing an apolitical third-act payoff, but they must also go through more pronounced and convincing motions of evincing pacifist sympathies before satisfying our bloodlusts.

Java Heat is a middling genre movie, but it’s oddly likable for its conflicted, unresolved tension. Director Conor Allyn displays too much authentic affection for Java, the Indonesian island that serves as the film’s setting, to adequately sell his vigilante theme, and so his camera often relishes the social textures at the expense of narrative momentum. At one point, the evil terrorist Malik (Mickey Rourke) is delivering the usual bad-guy monologue about the ends justifying the means, while Allyn concerns himself more with the little touches than whatever barely-coherent gibberish Rourke has been contracted to speak. You remember the dusty carpet, probably once explosively colorful, the parrot, and the general Dickensian clutter of Malik’s temporary hideout.

The film’s requisite odd couple is also unusually charming. As Jake Travers, a traveling American teacher’s assistant with a mysterious past (hint: he didn’t get that sculpted body carrying a book bag) and a handy action-hero name, Kellan Lutz displays a bit of the talent for muscle-parody that has made Dwayne Johnson such an unexpectedly appealing movie star. As Hashim, a Muslim detective primarily charged with lecturing Travers about his bullheaded methods of policing, Ario Bayu is lively and understated. There’s also, of course, Rourke, who invests the film with his nearly patented weirdo-alien magnetism. Java Heat doesn’t really go anywhere in a narrative sense, and it will almost certainly disappoint action aficionados, but these failures are, in this case, refreshing considering the general social corruption of the kind of narrative in question.

 Cast: Kellan Lutz, Ario Bayu, Verdi Solaiman, Atiqah Hasiholan, Mickey Rourke  Director: Conor Allyn  Screenwriter: Conor Allyn, Rob Allyn  Distributor: IFC Films  Running Time: 99 min  Rating: R  Year: 2013  Buy: Video

Chuck Bowen

Chuck Bowen's writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, The AV Club, Style Weekly, and other publications.

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