The action thriller "Java Heat" isn't necessarily a terrible movie, it just ends up being entirely forgettable and somewhat empty-headed. The movie looks like it will be a contemporary political puzzler, but never makes the most of its exotic locale and intriguing premise. What might have been an intricate and relevant look at religious strife and political maneuvering quickly goes somewhere far less interesting from a plotting standpoint. And when all the truths are revealed, my gut reaction was "who cares?" On the plus side, the movie is set in Indonesia which provides for plenty of local color. The action sequences are well executed, even if there aren't any real stand-out moments. And the movie features a really appealing lead performance from Indonesian actor Ario Bayo as a local detective. My principle negative, though, (aside from a rather mundane story) has got to be Kellan Lutz in the biggest role. Lutz is a man committed to a mission, supposedly with plenty of secrets and savvy, but ends up coming off like a frat boy throughout. He never demonstrates the smarts necessary to believe his character. It's like he's making a buddy cop comedy and no one else is, so he seems completely out of place.
The tale begins with Lutz in custody after a bombing which left the Indonesian Sultana dead. As the woman was to be her country's future leader, her untimely demise has long range political repercussions. Although suspicious of Lutz and his story, the detective in charge (Bayo) is thrown into cooperation with the American. Lutz is not being entirely forthcoming, however, and his actions bring him to the attention of criminal mastermind Mickey Rourke. As the investigation is leading to the unscrupulous Rourke, he takes counter measures. Soon, there is all out warfare with many innocents in the crossfire. As you might expect, there are plenty of fisticuffs, machine gun shootings, bombings, kidnappings, references to illicit sexual encounters with underage participants, and other manner of nefarious activity. Just who is Lutz and what is his agenda? What is Rourke's motivation? As I looked forward to having these questions answered, I was thoroughly underwhelmed by their resolution.
It's always good to see Rourke. Here he is mumbling all of his lines in an ever changing accent. When I could understand what he was saying, I was wondering what country he was supposed to be from. His villain is colorful, to be sure, but lacks any nuance or believability. From moment one, he is seething and over-the-top. And Lutz is truly perplexing. As this is set in the seamy underbelly of polite society, you'd think that our hero wouldn't be completely naive. At one point, a man asks if he wants to solicit the sexual services of a girl, a boy, or a lady-boy. His cartoonish and shocked reaction is laughable. His flirtations with the Sultana are truly painful too. And when a stranger hands you a drink in a bar and you're on a very important mission, maybe you shouldn't swill it down without a second thought. These are just a couple of moments that stand out, but his actions are perpetuated by nonsensical acts or inappropriate behavior. I don't blame Lutz entirely, the screenplay can't decide on the tone to adopt. Is "Java Heat" supposed to be lightweight and comical or dark and disturbing? I still don't know. And by not deciding, the picture fails to connect on either level. KGHarris, 9/13.