Racist slob cop Jack Moony (Bob Hoskins) bears a grudge against debonair black lawyer Napoleon Stone (Denzel Washington) who operates on the fringes of the law and is dating his hooker ex-girlfriend, Crystal (Chloe Webb). Shortly after being reprimanded by his boss (Roger E. Mosley) for hurling racial abuse whilst physically assaulting Stone during a confrontation, Moony suffers a major heart attack. His life is saved thanks to a heart transplant, the heart in question being that of Stone who was killed in a car crash. Moony returns to work but is startled to find himself confronted by the ghost of Napoleon Stone who urges him to investigate his murder.
The story goes Denzel Washington was persuaded to star in Heart Condition by his agent whom he promptly sacked shortly after the film was made. Which is a little perplexing given the star seemed perfectly happy to appear in Ricochet (1991) and Virtuosity (1995), films of considerably less merit when in fact Heart Condition is actually a comparitively intelligent and intriguingly offbeat genre hybrid. On the one hand, the film is a compendium of almost every trope popular throughout the preceding decade: a high concept interracial culture clash buddy cop comedy ghost thriller. Yet the film is disarmingly unflinching in confronting the theme of racism. As embittered bigot Jack Moony, Bob Hoskins snarls the kind of racial slurs no film hero would ever utter as the Nineties wore on.
Set in Los Angeles, Heart Condition was released at a time when racial tension was extremely raw in the city and set to explode when the police assault on Rodney King sparked the infamous riots. However, the film is not concerned with the outrage of an oppressed working class but comments on the shift in social status in the decade following the landmark interracial action thriller 48 Hrs. (1982). As the script makes clear it is not simply Stone’s race that irks Moony but the fact he is handsome, articulate, well educated, successful and consequently occupies a higher social strata than he could ever attain. Stone cannily pinpoints that what Moony really fears is a change in the social order that threatens to consign white blue collar dinosaurs like himself to the scrap heap.
Compared with most high-concept comedy-thrillers the tone is more low-key with deeper, quirkier characterisation. Midway the film deals a twist that packs a hefty emotional punch and alters the relationships between the principal characters and raises the stakes, but the film is far from perfect. Writer-director James D. Parriott, a television veteran since the Seventies when he scripted the likes of The Bionic Woman and The Incredible Hulk, became a fixture of the high concept TV show from vampire cop series Forever Knight to the recent female undercover spy serial, Covert Affairs. Consequently while Heart Condition features some interesting ideas they remain under-developed in a manner akin to a pilot for an ongoing television series. Which is not to say the film lacks style. Parriott’s script is fairly witty and his direction assured, if not spectacular, leaving the mystery somewhat undercooked and the pace too languid to accomodate the shifts in tone between thriller and satire. The plot takes time out to poke fun at the pretensions of early Nineties L.A. taking pot-shots at nouvelle cuisine, high-priced fashion and designer furniture. However, the climactic showdown wherein invisible ghost Stone guides an injured Moony and drug-addled Crystal through a maze of gun-toting hitmen is genuinely inspired and suspenseful, capped with a laugh-out-loud satirical jab at that Nineties emblem of upwardly mobile criminality: the cell-phone.