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Movie Review: Stakeout Turns 30

by Sean Patrick 4 years ago in movie / review

Director John Badham's Action-Comedy Celebrates 30 Years

Stakeout exists in a bizarre space in our popular memory. The action-comedy starring Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez opened the first weekend of August, 1987 at the top of the box office. The film went on to rank in the top 10 highest grossing films of the year and earned mostly positive reviews from critics. Then, it simply faded from memory. Sure, 6 years after the release of Stakeout they got around to making a bad sequel, shoulder shruggingly titled Another Stakeout, that did the original film no favors, but why did this successful movie mostly disappear from popular memory?

Dreyfuss and Estevez play Chris and Bill, Seattle Police detectives who are tasked with what they think is a punishment gig. After screwing up a bust, they get put on stakeout duty, watching the ex-girlfriend of an escaped convict in case he might come visiting. Aiden Quinn is the convict, nicknamed Stick, while Madeleine Stowe plays the ex-girlfriend who also becomes Chris’s love interest, something that is highly fraught as Chris must pretend he’s not a police officer to not blow his and Bill’s cover.

Dreyfuss and Stowe have a terrific chemistry, despite Stowe’s bizarre Spanish-Irish combo accent and Dreyfuss’s remarkable creepiness in watching her undress when he first goes on stakeout duty and then breaks into her home and ends up watching her shower. Despite how much I enjoy Richard Dreyfuss, there is no escaping how pervy and unfunny these scenes are. The sexual dynamic of Stakeout has not aged well and likely plays into why the film is so well forgotten.

The dynamic between Dreyfuss and Estevez is equally as charming as the dynamic between Stowe and Dreyfuss. Estevez was a mere 25 years old in Stakeout but with the aid of a remarkable mustache, he ages up just enough to be convincing as a detective. I loved the playful interplay between Estevez and Dreyfuss which is far less broad than your typical 80s action-comedy and feels more realistic and genuine than similar cop comedies; the two seem like genuine friends and partners instead of the more popular mismatched partners of so many similar films.

Stakeout was directed by John Badham, best known for directing Saturday Night Fever and Short Circuit. The film was among the most successful of Badham’s career, a career which in many ways stands as a perfect example of the most popular 80s aesthetics; that of the popular yet entirely disposable. Much like the plastic products popularly purchased from late night television, Badham's movies are the tupperware of popular entertainment, functional, well-designed, even pleasing but if you lost one you won't linger on the loss.

Badham is a perfect example of the director as a craftsman as opposed to auteur. His work is most often well assembled, successful, and entertaining but rarely evinces anything that anyone would consider authorship. How else do you explain how he moved from Saturday Night Fever to War Games to Blue Thunder to Short Circuit, while leaving audiences puzzled as to how the same director could have made all of these movies?

Badham has no directorial signatures, aside from a certain bro-ishness that is both dated and modern at once. His male protagonists are all guys-guys, leering creeps with hearts of gold. Even his robot Johnny 5 can’t resist ogling the ladies in a Badham movie. But creating sweet characters with jerky qualities isn’t exactly something I would call a ‘style.’ His work is mostly marked by his remarkable consistency. Badham, for a long while, had a finger on the pulse of popular 80s entertainment and made movies that were just good enough, just entertaining enough and just bland enough to reach mainstream success.

That may be why we don’t remember Stakeout. The film is just good enough, just successful enough and just competent enough to be fun to revisit but nothing you’re going to make room in your memory bank for. That is a perfect description of nearly everything John Badham ever directed. Sure, there are those whose nostalgia keeps Short Circuit in cable TV rotation but, for the most part, Badham’s brand of 80s blockbuster is back shelf material, dingy, dust-covered VHS tapes we might pull off the shelf again someday but will quickly forget as soon as we remember. Say, what movie was I writing about?

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Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for Everyone's a Critic Movie Review Podcast. I am a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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