“High Heat” is a hoot. Though it may sound in synopsis like standard-issue genre fare suitable for quick-serve consumption on digital and streaming platforms, this satisfying mashup of crime thriller and dark comedy plays almost like a wink-and-a-nod sendup of such cookie-cutter time-killers. Indeed, director Zach Golden and scripter James Pedersen go so far as to deliberately emphasize the telltale sign of a budget-cramped indie production — almost all of the action unfolds in only two settings, a restaurant and a parking garage — while lacing clichés and conventions with self-aware wit and sass in a briskly paced package. Better still, it appears that everyone on-screen was let in on the joke — but nobody takes that knowledge as license to break character or even dent the fourth wall.
The movie engages right from the start, with composer Max Di Carlo’s zippy opening theme underscoring a colorfully retro credits sequence (by Danny Oakley and Out of Our Minds Studios) that actually makes it bearable to sit through an interminable list of executive producers. From there, we’re dropped into the barely controlled kitchen chaos during opening night at Etoile Rouge, where chief chef and co-owner Ana Abramov (Olga Kurylenko) is issuing commands with all the authority (but slightly less of the abrasiveness) of Gordon Ramsay. Out in front, diners are greeted with a dazzling smile, glad-handing charm, and a hearty “Bon appétit!” by Ana’s husband and partner, Ray, played by Don Johnson in silver-fox mode.
The grand opening is well on its way to being a smashing success until the arrival of Mick (Ivan Martin), the underachieving and overcompensating son of Dom (Dallas Page), a gangster who invested in Ray’s earlier restaurant ventures, none of which turned a profit. This time out, Dom has devised a plot to ensure a quick return on the $1.3 million he loaned Ray to finance Etoile Rouge — i.e., burning the place down for insurance money.
Naturally, Ray hasn’t said anything about his demanding investor to Ana — who, curiously enough, doesn’t seem to have ever asked her husband where he got the seed money to realize her long-cherished dream of opening a world-class restaurant. Then again, every husband and wife hide secrets from each other, right? As it turns out, Ana has a rather convenient skeleton in her closet: She is a retired KGB agent trained to inflict grievous bodily harm with everything from automatic weapons to fistfuls of celery stalks. Mick and Don have a vantage point in a parking garage across the street; the more they send underlings to commit arson and worse in the Etoile Rouge, the higher the body count mounts.
Rest assured, however: There are several good laughs between (and, quite often, during) the bursts of rough stuff. Dom makes little secret of his profound disappointment in his son — “This wasn’t supposed to be difficult, Mick! That’s why I sent you to take care of it!” — and must choke back his fury while negotiating overtime rates with the leader of freelance assassins. Even as they ward off repeated assaults on their restaurant, Ana and Ray find time to squabble like a conventional married couple. She: “No wonder you’ve been divorced twice!” He: “That’s a little below the belt, don’t you think?” Even so, Ray insists that, for all his failings, he will stand by his woman. And their restaurant. “Sixty-five percent of waitstaff quit during their shift,” he says. “I’m not going to be one of them.”
And speaking of married couples: The funniest of the funny business comes courtesy of Mimi (Kaitlin Doubleday), Ana’s deadly frenemy from her KGB days, and Tom (Chris Diamantopoulos), a lethally proficient sniper and amazingly patient husband. They bring along their “Shining”-spooky twin daughters (Bianca D’Ambrosio, Chiara D’Ambrosio) when they venture to the Etoile Rouge to reinforce and/or kill Ana because, the last time they left the girls home alone, they threw an unsupervised party.
It would be unfair to reveal how things turn out for any of the aforementioned folks — or for Gary (Jackie Long), an ace masseuse who’s understandably rattled while caught in the crossfire. So let’s leave it like this: “High Heat” is a movie in which practically everyone gets exactly what’s coming to them. Well, with the possible exception of someone who makes a churlish remark about the conspicuous age difference between Ana and Ray. That person gets off easy, relatively speaking.