So, after watching The Exterminator this morning, I chose to follow that up with a 1988 entry into James Glickenhaus’ filmography starring Peter Weller and Sam Elliott. Backed by Universal Pictures, this film is a warp speed jump ahead in polished filmmaking, tight storytelling, and an entertaining picture with lots of energizing action. Yet, it has plenty of substance and strong characters realized by great actors. Shakedown was a fun ride that I would like to share with you now.
When a local drug dealer shoots a dishonest cop in self-defense, lawyer Roland Dalton (Peter Weller) and renegade undercover cop Richie Marks (Sam Elliott) join forces to clear him. But when their investigation leads them into a maze of greed and corruption, they learn that in a town where everything is for sale, anything can happen. Amidst this, Dalton realizes the prosecutor in this, his last case, is a former love interest, the smart and sexy Susan Cantrell (Patricia Charbonneau). Throughout the trial Roland rekindles this former affair with Susan unbeknown to his fiancée Gail (Blanche Baker). All of this twists and turns around Dalton and Marks as they battle through the web of corrupt cops who’d sooner see them dead at every turn.
This is a top notch movie all the way through. We’re given a story that is sharply put together that always holds your attention, and keeps something moving forward at a tight rhythm at all times. There are enough interconnected threads to allow the film to do that, but not remotely so many as to complicate things. The trial of the drug dealer ties into the corrupt dealings of these New York cops, and with Dalton being the central focus of this plot, his own personal relationships branch out from that. So, there’s always something unfolding and weaving its way into the momentum of the story to keep that energy and pace up. Yet, even though the film has a polished style, it still delves into that seedy underbelly of New York that James Glickenhaus enjoyed spotlighting in his films. So, we get something sharp, sleek, and immensely entertaining while still having that underlining presence of the sleazier side of things. Glickenhaus hits the mainstream with great success fueled by a very well written script, and a spectacular cast of talent at his disposal.
Peter Weller is just amazing in this movie. As Roland Dalton, he’s a very charismatic and lively guy who loves his Jimi Hendrix and has plenty of enjoyable flare. He’s a very relatable and intelligent character portrayed by an actor who exemplifies those qualities. Weller works the courtroom scenes with compelling energy and sharp wit. He also carries strong emotional and dramatic weight throughout the film. The building romantic relationship with Susan is touchingly handled with beautiful chemistry. It help creates a full, well-rounded character that has various aspects to his life that all tie into the threads of the plot. Weller really does have the meat of screentime, and thus, properly gets top billing. Weller’s character never shies away from action or danger in his pursuit of truth. He regularly gets himself into dangerous scenarios, but is able to handle himself competently. Weller takes all of this in stride melding together a very fascinating, dimensional, and entertaining character. I loved watching him every minute he was on screen.
Of course, this takes nothing away from Sam Elliott who fits comfortably into this rugged loner. Richie Marks is very grounded, soaked into the thick of the grit of the city. We first meet him waking up in a 42nd Street grindhouse movie theatre with crack vials littering the floor, and brushing his teeth in the graffiti laden restroom. This is a guy whose luck is just about dried up, but he’s still a solid cop that can rundown the worst the New York streets have to offer. Sam Elliott was only 43 years old when he made this film, and so, his shaggy gray hair and beard make him look older and gruffer than he truly was. Thus, he was still able to throw himself into some physically demanding action scenes, which are great. Elliott has a sly personality and fine charisma that make Richie charming in contrast to the filthy environment he surrounds himself with. He’s a straight arrow cop that knows the crooked dealings in the department, but until now, hasn’t had much motivation or back-up to do anything about it.
Elliott and Weller simply work excellently together. It’s not the typical buddy cop formula where two conflicting personalities clash with a single purpose to bond them. Dalton and Marks might be distinctly different in how they lead their lives, how they present each other, but they are similar-minded men of law and justice that don’t need convincing to join forces. They’re friends from the outset, and we see they are more alike than superficial appearances would suggest. The two actors are tight fits, and have a sharp chemistry and wit that keeps the film energetic and entertaining.
Every other actor in this film does a tremendous, expert job. I’ve loved Larry Joshua in everything I’ve seen him in, and he portrays the main corrupt cop Rydell. He’s got that streetwise, slimy quality mixed in with Joshua’s usual charismatic edge and energy. Rydell is enjoyably corrupt with just the right amount of despicableness to make a villain you love to hate. You really want to see him taken down well before the end Patricia Charbonneau is excellent as Susan Cantrell. She brings a lively vibe with her, but balances that with a solid, assertive dramatic presence in the courtroom scenes. It’s a full, well-rounded performance that holds up strongly opposite Peter Weller. Richard Brooks, who portrayed Paul Robinette on the first few seasons of Law & Order, portrays the drug dealing Michael Jones, and he is a really, strong fit for this role. It’s also a very well written role that works very much to Brooks’ strengths, and he couldn’t be better. And for those that love him, John C. McGinley has a brief energetic and funny role as a lawyer and friend of Dalton’s. There are no weak links in this cast anywhere at all.
Shakedown also has some first rate action sequences. Glickenhaus seems very proficient in this realm as he always finds a way to amp up the scene at some point beyond your expectations. He never settles for the standard chase scene. He adds something especially exciting on top of what already was a damn good sequence, and gives you that memorable punctuation. I was genuinely blown away at the intensity and impact of many of these scenes. They really deliver in full force on every bit of adrenalin and pay-off you’d expect from a solid action film. And I love that the film easily balances the action with the drama of the story. The struggle for justice in the courtroom is given as much poignancy as the crime on the street. They go hand-in-hand with this story, and it’s great to see that both sides are executed equally as well making for a very satisfying narrative.
As I mentioned, there’s more to the film than just action. With Roland, you can see that the relationship with his fiancée does have its turbulence, but doesn’t come off as something that’s falling apart. He starts out as a man on the verge of changing his life with a new career and a wedding on the horizon. However, the man that he is becomes anchored by Susan coming passionately back into his life both professional and intimately. It strikes a sentimental and deep chord with Roland, and I love where the film takes him by the end. It’s a very satisfying character arc, and it never feels clichéd or contrived. It’s smartly written with touches of levity, tenderness, and honesty. All of the dialogue in the film is smartly written highlighting personality throughout, and keeping things fresh, sharp, and entertaining.
Shakedown is also really damn well shot. I liked the use of wide angle lenses which highlighted either the excellent scenery of New York, or simply enhanced some big, dramatic action shots. The film has a slick, polished quality that still delves into the seedier areas of 42nd Street with the grindhouse theatre and a sleazy sex club. We get some nice uses of light and shadow mixed with neon colors that create a solid atmosphere. There is nothing here that is not shot superbly. I find it amazing what good filmmakers could do with $6 million back in the 80s. This film is high quality all the way with great authentic on-location shoots in New York, crane shots, steadicams, and just a big budget polish to everything while never losing an edginess or personality for the film. The editing is also excellent. Editor Paul Fried had a short career that ended the following year, and it’s a shame because I can’t levy a single critique against what he did here. It’s an exemplary editing job from start to finish. It’s tight and sharp hitting all the marks and beats dead-on-the-mark.
The music of Shakedown is also really good. It’s a solid action score using more of a rock driven style that really complements the energetic quality of the film. Jonathan Elias doesn’t have many notable credits to his name, but the fact that he worked alongside John Barry, the regular composer of the James Bond films through to The Living Daylights, is a big mark of quality in my eyes. If this film is any example, he learned quite a lot from Barry, and applied to with his own style that couldn’t have been better for this film. Add in a little Jimi Hendrix “Purple Haze” and a solid upbeat rock/pop tune to close out the film, and you’ve got something that is greatly appealing and fun. It’s a shame no soundtrack was ever released for Shakedown, and that aforementioned end credits song “Lookin’ For Love” by Nikki Ryder is really nowhere to be found.
As if I need to say it, I really, really liked this movie! It was a lot of fun, and it gave me entertaining, dimensional leads with a lot of fresh chemistry and charisma to offer. I cannot reiterate it strongly enough that Peter Weller is stellar in every second of screentime here. I loved the character and his performance. Meanwhile, Sam Elliott delivered beautifully on his end of things. Shakedown was decently successful on its theatrical release grossing $10 million from a $6 million budget, and I think it deserves exposure to a wider audience. I rented this off of iTunes, which has the film available for purchase or rental in high-definition widescreen. I was thoroughly satisfied with this movie, which was released in international markets as Blue Jean Cop, and this gets my full fledged recommendation. I will be glad to add this to my DVD collection, and I hope you will give this 112 minutes of your time. It’s an exciting, fun ride that has a lot to offer the action movie fan.