Stakeout (1987) / Action-Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for violence, language and nudity
Running Time: 116 min.
Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Emilio Estevez, Madeleine Stowe, Aidan Quinn, Forest Whitaker, Dan Laurio, Earl Billings, Ian Tracey, J. J. Makaro
Director: John Badham
Screenplay: Jim Kouf
Review published May 22, 2004
Stakeout is a buddy movie done right, and one of the rare exceptions where the plot is actually almost as interesting as the comical interpersonal hijinks between the two stars. It also pairs two people who aren't complete opposites, don't bicker incessantly, and whose individual outlooks on life and their job, while not always on the same page, is understood by their partner. They're actual "buddies", and we like the fact that they like each other, even when annoyed or angry, and we like watching two knuckleheads see the comic side of a routine job that can also be deadly serious at times.
Dreyfuss (Close Encounters, Jaws) and Estevez (The Breakfast Club, Nightmares) play two Seattle police detectives, Lecce and Reimer, given an assignment to stakeout the house of Maria McGuire (Stowe, Short Cuts), the former girlfriend of a dangerous criminal who has just busted out of prison, the murderous Stick Montgomery (Quinn, Benny & Joon). She's an attractive woman, so the two men are content to enjoy themselves watching her do things like get undressed in the "privacy" of her home, while spying in a vacant house across the street. However, Lecce begins to get to close when posing as a telephone company repairman, starting off a friendship that has the potential to lead to something more, and also endanger the case, as well as their lives.
John Badham (American Flyers, WarGames) directs to mostly successful results, utilizing a similar formula in his previous equally entertaining buddy flick, Blue Thunder. Although Dreyfuss and Estevez would seem an unlikely choice in casting, especially when thinking of two actors who would have natural screen chemistry together, they perform their roles with complete competence. You actually feel that these are two guys with lots of history together, joking with each other in ways that only two longtime friends would. Although it's an amusing idea for a story from screenwriter Jim Kouf, who would later pen another notable buddy movie, Rush Hour, it's really the off-the-cuff style of Dreyfus and Estevez that makes the film fun. If the majority of the film's funniest moments weren't completely ad-libbed, I would be very surprised.
Things turn a bit violent towards the end, and the film does suffer as a result, with a final twenty minutes that lacks the charm and good-spirit of the rest of the movie. It doesn't kill the film, because by this point we have already been entertained enough to allow for the formula indulgences of the genre, and also Badham's skill at directing violent action. The final scene picks up the irreverent comedy right where it had left off, with the characters playing off of each other in fun.
It's a successful approach that would make people want to see them one more time with the sequel six years later, Another Stakeout. Unfortunately, even with the same writer, director, and cast of actors, the charm was gone. Still, one successful comic actioner is more than most have been able to achieve, and while Stakeout is certainly no classic comedy by any means, the entertainment value is enough to merit revisiting from time to time for the natural chemistry done by people out to have a good time, playing fast and loose in a formula vehicle that usually results in mechanical, forgettable fare.
©2004 Vince Leo