Eastwood and Reynolds mock their macho images
Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds, paired for the first time in ''City Heat,'' have two things in common. They're among Hollywood's most popular draws at the box office - Eastwood topping last year's list, Reynolds coming in fourth.
And both are at their best when mocking their own macho images - something Reynolds does regularly, Eastwood occasionally, as in parts of ''Bronco Billy'' and ''Escape From Alcatraz.''
So it's not surprising that ''City Heat'' works best at its most humorous moments, when the stars loosen up for some fun with their roles and themselves. The first scene, in a cheap diner, sets the tone: Reynolds flails through a fistfight that's half mayhem and half slapstick while Eastwood stonily sips his coffee, until somebody spills that coffee and he leaps into the fray, eyes bulging with exaggerated Eastwood menace.
Similar moments crop up throughout the picture, including a neat finale that starts as a showdown and ends as an insult contest - capped with Eastwood thrusting his nose into Reynolds's face and intoning, ''You'll always be Shorty to me . . . .''
Other good points include the moody Great Depression atmosphere, complete with Rudy Vallee singing Cole Porter, and handsome photography by Nick McLean, who knows how to make a scene attractive without prettifying it. And what a cast , even without the stars: Jane Alexander and Madeline Kahn as girlfriends, Rip Torn and Tony Lo Bianco as bad guys, Richard Roundtree as a double-crossing private eye. A special nod also goes to the marvelous Irene Cara as a sympathetic lady in distress, even if her singing style (in a couple of nightclub scenes) has more of the '80s than the '30s to it.
With these virtues, it's too bad ''City Heat'' runs too long and lapses into gangster-movie cliches much too often, stringing out the story with obvious twists and interminable shoot-outs. The screenplay (by Sam O. Brown and Joseph C. Stinson) isn't verbally crisp, either, although it tries to be - we're supposed to laugh at wisecracks I first heard in grade school, and even these are padded with extra words that weigh them down when they should jump and snap.
''City Heat'' is destined to be a hit anyway, of course, and director Richard Benjamin deserves credit for steering it competently and cheerfully toward its goal of wide audience appeal. It's about time Eastwood and Reynolds faced off - and I, for one, am glad they do it with barely hidden smiles. 'Comfort and Joy'
''Comfort and Joy'' is the year's best example of Scottish humor.
It's the only example, in fact, for American moviegoers. A gentle and bittersweet comedy, it tells the eccentric tale of Dickie Bird, a mild-mannered radio personality who finds himself in the middle of a war between Glasgow ice cream merchants. It's sly and subtle, and Americans are reacting to it cautiously: It had a respectable but limited Manhattan run before venturing to a few other cities, where it's now testing the waters.
Just what is Scottish humor? The opposite of British humor, according to filmmaker Bill Forsyth, who discussed ''Comfort and Joy'' with me during a New York visit.
Scots identify with the underdog, he said. Therefore they appreciate a ''communal, sustaining'' kind of humor. ''It's based on sharing,'' he went on. ''It's what you'd hear if 20 people were trapped in a ship during a storm, finding sustenance among themselves.'' By contrast, English humor ''is based on separation. It's more violent and vindictive, growing from a class system. It doesn't come from poking fun at yourself . . . .''
Forsyth likes poking fun at his characters, his culture, and even the conventions of film comedy. Noting the absurdly neat climax of ''Comfort and Joy ,'' he revels in its artificiality. ''I'm not very interested in stories and dramatics,'' he says. ''They take too much time and get in the way of other things'' - such as the careful building of mood and character that's so impressive here and in the delicate ''Local Hero,'' which played on American screens last year.
Indeed, says Forsyth, the story of ''Comfort and Joy'' is a joke in itself, with deliberately silly touches that are meant to be ironic. Although the ending is resonant and ambiguous, the climax is ridiculous because it reflects the hero's condition - ''trapped in his own banality,'' as the filmmaker puts it.
The protagonist of ''Local Hero'' was less caged in, since his personality goes through real changes during the film, but there the joke is that he doesn't realize he has changed. Do these characters and conditions illustrate the Forsyth philosophy of life? The answer is yes. ''We're all trapped in our little worlds,'' the filmmaker muses - quickly adding that ''I don't see this negatively. There's something touching about it . . . .''
After launching ''Comfort and Joy'' at home and abroad, Forsyth is settling down this winter to transform an American novel into the screenplay of his next project. He won't reveal its title yet, but he says it takes place in the American Northwest and concerns ''female relationships within a family.'' The main characters are two teen-age girls and their aunt, and the plot spans a generation or so - ''not chronologically,'' says the filmmaker, ''but reflectively.''
Forsyth is delighted to be adapting a novel for the first time, since - with a ready-made story - he can put all his energy into the moods and images that interest him more than plot. ''There's not a lot of story to it,'' he says, ''and not a lot of verbal communication.'' But there are ''a lot of atmospheres'' and a stress on ''landscape and location.'' He also hopes to capture ''the energy of the wave of American immigration,'' which created ''a restlessness that still hasn't settled.'' To be shot in the Northwest United States or Canada, the film will be ''very American,'' he thinks.
It's surprising to see Forsyth leave home for a project, since he practically invented the Scottish film industry. Before he made ''That Sinking Feeling'' a few years back, aspiring Scottish directors inevitably went to England in hope of building their careers.
''I was the first person silly enough not to leave,'' says Forsyth, whose success on his own soil has paved the way for other young filmmakers. They still gravitate toward England eventually, reflecting an old Scottish tendency, but now ''it's possible for a filmmaker to go from Glasgow to London and not get laughed back on the train, as was the case five years ago.'' Forsyth has also bestowed on Glasgow a number of experienced crew members and technicians, who grew alongside him in their parallel careers.
''I've never painted myself into a corner by saying I'd only make Scottish films,'' Forsyth points out, justifying his American project. ''I've never been nationalistic and I'm not waving any flags.''
But, adds the master of Scottish humor, ''I'm still rooted in Scotland.'' Then he pauses for a moment, gives a sheepish smile behind his shaggy beard, and admits he's started thinking of his new American characters as coming from Scottish ancestry. ''Perhaps it makes me feel a bit more at home . . . .'' Video installation
''Machinery for the Re-education of a Delinquent Dictator'' is an ungainly title, but the work behind it has surprising power. It's a video installation by San Francisco-based artist Doug Hall, who describes its subject as ''the symbols of power and how we orient ourselves to them.''
Entering the room that contains the piece, the viewer sees four black pedestals holding TV monitors. Two of them show a billowing red flag intercut with off-putting words - ''fear'' and ''condemned,'' among others. The other screens intercut the flag with shots of a dictator giving a harangue. Although he speaks with great energy, his words have been processed through an ''electronic harmonizer'' and have a slow-motion incomprehensibility you might find in a dream.
Running down the center of the room is a low platform with a huge red flag hanging at the rear. When a viewer steps on a small pedestal in front of it, a large electric fan spins behind the flag, snapping it toward the spectator with alarming force. Even the dictator's speech is drowned out by this aggressive spectacle.
The iconography here is anything but subtle: Hall's symbol for flag-waving demagoguery is flag-waving demagoguery. But the piece has an imposing presence, and its kinetic qualities are effective on a gut level, if less so on an intellectual plane. As a bonus, the viewer is free to walk behind the work and peek at its backside - the rear of the TV sets, the rope that holds the flag, and so forth. Sure enough, there's nothing to that belligerent dictator but some carefully aimed images; he's a cut-rate Wizard of Oz after all.
''Machinery'' was seen recently in the New American Filmmakers Series at the Whitney Museum of American Art here. Hall's videotapes are distributed by Electronic Arts Intermix in New York and Environmental Communications in Venice, Calif.