Saturday, February 23, 2013

Stakeout (1987)

Director: John Badham                               Writer: Jim Kouf
Film Score: Arthur B. Rubinstein                 Cinematography: John Seale
Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Emilio Estevez, Madeline Stowe and Aidan Quinn

One of the hottest film companies in the eighties was Disney’s Touchstone division. It was the company that single-handedly revived the careers of Nick Nolte, Bette Midler and the star of this film, Richard Dreyfuss. His first film for the company, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, was a major comeback. It was the first he had done in two years, and was only the third film he had done in the previous six years. It was a minor hit and paved the way for some very good leading roles immediately following, including Stand By Me, Tin Men and what is probably the best of his Touchstone films, Stakeout.

Jim Kouf’s script for Stakeout is very cleverly written, not only in terms of plot and subplot, but the dialog as well. Another nice thing about it is the humor is very character driven and matches extremely well with the actors. The story involves the stakeout of Madeline Stowe’s house by the police, Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez, because her former boyfriend, Aidan Quinn, has escaped from prison. Things are fine until Dreyfuss goes undercover inside her house to plant bugs in her phones and the two fall for each other. Dreyfuss attempts to skirt the ethical dilemma as long as possible, but puts not only the investigation in jeopardy, but his job as well. I have my doubts as to whether this film would be made today, the peeping tom aspect along with the improved reputation of police in general doesn’t really resonate now.

It’s sometimes difficult for a film to get the right balance between comedy and drama, but this film does an excellent job. Director John Badham, who had been primarily a TV director, and is best known for Saturday Night Fever and War Games, imbued the film with timeless stylistic elements that don’t seem dated even today. What does date the film is the music, some synthesized pieces in the film score, but mostly from the pop hits of the day. The only really unfortunate decision made by the production was to film in Vancouver, Canada and attempt to pass it off as Seattle. There was no attempt even made to insert second unit shots of Seattle landmarks into the exterior shots and, as a result, there is nothing even remotely like Seattle in the entire film.

The principals all acquit themselves admirably in the film. The relationship between Dreyfuss and Stowe has a nice sense of realism to it, more believable even that his earlier romantic lead in The Goodbye Girl. Emilio Estevez is almost too young for the role, a fact which they are forced to address in the film when he tells Dreyfuss, “I busted my ass to make detective before thirty . . .” What really makes the film, however, is the malevolence of Adian Quinn, a great performance as the escaped murderer that the viewer doesn’t doubt for a minute. In addition, there is a great supporting cast that includes Forest Whitaker, Dan Lauria, Ian Tracey and Earl Billings. For an eighties film, Stakeout delivers on all its promises and is a solid piece of entertainment.

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