Retro Film Review: Stakeout (1987)
Movie-loving people who used to live in former Yugoslavia probably had the best times of their lives in a short, but blissful period between mid 1980s and early 1990s. That Golden Age happened thanks to the mass advent of VCRs - something that took domineering socialist economy by surprise. Legislation of the dying Communist regime wasn't prepared any better, so the legal limbo was (mis)used by the cunning entrepreneurs of the private sector, ready to flood the hungry market with bootleg tapes of the latest Hollywood blockbusters. Average video-consumer of those times had an excellent opportunity to enjoy latest Hollywood products sometimes only few weeks after U.S. premiere, which was great improvement over pre-video era, when the average wait used to be 3-4 years. Of course, there were drawbacks – the picture quality was abysmal, and the translation on subtitles was sometimes even more imaginative than the movie itself. In a few rare occasion that benefited slumping theatre industry, because people were inclined to go see movies on the big screen, simply to find out what really went on at the movie. But sometimes, on even rarer occasions, people who had previously seen movie on video, went to the theatre to re- watch it, simply because they liked it on a small screen. The first movie that did that for the author of this review was Stakeout, 1987 action comedy by John Badham.
The movie plot begins when Richard "Stick" Montgomery (played by Aidan Quinn), sociopathic cop killer, escapes from the maximum security prison with the help of his cousin Caylor Reese (played by Ian Tracey). FBI organises the nation-wide manhunt, and one of the possible leads could be Montgomery's ex-girlfriend who lives in Seattle. Two Seattle police detectives – Chris Lecce (played by Richard Dreyfuss) and Bill Reimers (played by Emilio Estevez) are assigned for the Stakeout. At the beginning, two men hate the boring job, but everything changes when they finally see the object of their surveillance – beautiful Maria McGuirre (played by Madeleine Stowe). That is especially true for Chris, who, after a while, can't stop bumping into the woman, against Bill's better judgement. After a few accidental encounters, it turns out that the feeling is mutual and one thing leads to another. However, the romance seems ill-fated from the start, due to some practical problems. Chris must hide his true identity from the woman he loves, and at the same time he must find the way to hide his unprofessional behaviour from the colleagues and superiors.
Some of today's viewers might be tempted to consider this movie as nothing more than just another in a series of "high concept" cop movies. That trend indeed produced mostly disappointments, including some really unwatchable garbage, but sometimes we could enjoy some real pearls including this one. Screenplay was written by Jim Kouf, writer whose work before and after was of a mixed quality (most notable is his underrated SF thriller Hidden, made in 1986). He decided to avoid the usual formula of such movies (main attraction - e.g. pairing of black woman detective with epileptic partner - plus series of cliches and conventional storyline automatically patched together) and really worked to make the plot as realistic as possible. His characters are also real human beings, and the best example could be Chris and Bill, two policemen who, unlike their cardboard or superhuman colleagues in other movies, really talk and act like someone we could envision as real-life cops. The life of policeman, as portrayed in Stakeout, isn't fascinating nor exciting at all - most of the time is spent on routine and mostly boring assignments. Even the high- tech surveillance, something that used to be portrayed as frightening future in previous movies by John Badham (Blue Thunder) here becomes boring part of everyday life, and even the vouyeristic benefits soon lose their appeal. Instead of becoming obsessed with the object of their surveillance, our heroes are more concerned with ways to fight boredom; one of them, that provides charmingly realistic comic relief, is practical joke war with another surveillance shift. The general realistic tone of the movie is good ground for the successful blend of standard cop action and comedy.
Sadly, this combination of action and comedy was the last big movie of John Badham, whose career later sunk into mediocrity (including the disappointingly bad sequel Another Stakeout). However, in this movie Badham has a nice opportunity to combine his skills of action-oriented director with comedy. Stakeout might be almost two hours long, but Badham knows how to wrap a lot of attractive material in that package. One of those materials is a photography by John Seale that provides a nice contrast between grey Vancouver exteriors (x-philes would recognise not only the locations of their favourite series, but also a some notable members of supporting cast) and warm interiors - contrast that illustrates the warmth in the hearts of our heroes. The soundtrack of Arthur B. Rubinstein isn't too inspired (some elements of Blue Thunder musical score might be recognised) and more often than not Badham uses songs in the background to advance the plot. Perhaps the only major flaw would be Badham's acceptance of Hollywood's formulaic big showdown in the finale - but even the standard showdown in an empty warehouses provided some room for minor twists and some humour.
However, the biggest attraction of the movie are the actors, or, to be more specific, one single actor. Richard Dreyfuss had proved his comedic potential long time ago, but here he shows that he can do the same thing as Eddie Murphy – carry out entire movie almost single-handedly due to his talent. His portrayal of Chris is wonderful – grey haired, experienced policeman whose mature exterior seems to be in great contrast with his comic personality and flaws that seem to impair his efficiency as policeman. Another amusing contrast is provided by his partner, played by Emilio Estevez (who had to grow moustache to look older in his first adult role), who happens to look more mature than his twice older partner. Chris' immaturity and irrational acting, however, is quite justifiable since the object of his attention is played by Madeleine Stowe, one of the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood. Stowe, who would repeat femme fatale routine in many other movies, here shows a great comic talent and her interaction with Dreyfuss is delightful. All the other supporting actors are good, even Aidan Quinn in the role of psychopatic boyfriend, who had enough space to make his token bad guy multi-dimensional.
All in all, Stakeout is full of contrasts - it is realistic, yet entertaining movie; serious and funny in the same time. But, more than anything, it is that kind of movie that would make people enjoy it without feeling guilty.
RATING: 9/10 (++++)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.movies.reviews on November 28h 1998)
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