Stakeout (1987)

Director: John Badham

Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Emilio Estevez, Madeleine Stowe, Aidan Quinn, Forest Whitaker, Dan Lauria

Two friends hang around the house with nothing to do and no TV to pass the time. The only entertainment available to them is the attractive woman across the street, whose every move they gleefully spy on, eagerly waiting for something interesting to happen. Every now and then, others come over to trade insults/practical jokes… but usually it’s just the two of them, the telescope, a box of Dunkin’ Donuts and a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. If this was high school, they might be considered pathetic for spending their evenings this way. But this is the adult world, the two friends are cops, and the neighbor they’re drooling over is their current assignment.

After their last case at a fish factory ended with the perp getting away and one of them needing a change of clothes, Seattle detective Chris Lecce (Richard Dreyfuss) and his young partner Bill Reimers (Emilio Estevez) are put on the night shift of a stakeout. The focus of their new task is Maria Maguire (Madeleine Stowe), whose ex-boyfriend Richard Montgomery (Aidan Quinn) is a recently escaped convict. It is anticipated that he’ll come back to Maria’s house because of money stashed away somewhere inside, of which Maria is unaware. Chris and Bill think this job is beneath them, especially when they learn that the FBI intends to take full credit for Montgomery’s capture.

Bill may be a bit of an immature horn dog, but he’s a happily married man who has no intention of doing anything against protocol which might result in his being suspended or fired. This includes fraternizing with an assignment. Chris is a different story. A bit older, but hardly wiser, Chris has not been experiencing wedded bliss as of late. In point of fact, his marital issues are the kind that resort in the wife packing everything up in cardboard boxes and leaving while he’s not home. Lonely and in need of a good lay, Chris decides against his better judgment to get to know the woman, and to let her get to know him without really getting to know him. He poses as a telephone repairman, which is how he had first introduced himself so that he could tap Maria’s phone line, but that facade is quickly tested, and it becomes harder for Chris to shield her from the truth, especially when he bails her brother out of jail and she shows up at the station. What’s he going to say if and when Montgomery finally shows up at her front doorstep?

Though the movie has its share of violent shootouts, “Stakeout” is first and foremost a comedy. One of the movie’s most uproarious sequences comes after Chris and Maria have become intimate. Chris is recalling a nightmare he’s just had, when all of a sudden he realizes that it’s now morning and he can’t be seen at Maria’s house. Unable to say why he has to leave in a rush, Chris dons a disguise, complete with a big pink hat he has borrowed, and leads police on a chase around the neighborhood before managing to sneak back into the steakout house with Bill. Another laugh-out-loud, wink at the audience moment comes when Chris and Bill are sitting around trying to stump one another with trivia questions. Bill comes up with a movie quote: “This was no boating accident!” We, the audience, know that this line comes from “Jaws,” and was in fact spoken by Richard Dreyfuss. Chris is, of course, completely stumped.

Richard Dreyfuss is one of those rare talents who, no matter what role he plays, never once appears to be acting. He is completely believable in an otherwise unbelievable situation as a man constantly battling against adversity in his job and in his love life, yet one who never seems to lose sight of his inner man-child. This may in part be due to his friendship with his partner Bill, who is more responsible and yet has no problem with pulling pranks on his fellow detectives (Forest Whitaker and Dan Lauria). Emilio Estevez’s career is relegated mostly to working behind the camera now, but he was a hot commodity back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, including starring in my all-time favorite movie, the 1985 John Hughes teen comedy “The Breakfast Club.” He’s perfectly suited for a role like Bill. “Stakeout” also represented the first breakout role in the career of actress Madeleine Stowe. She would later make more of a name for herself in films like “The Last of the Mohicans” and “12 Monkeys,” but it was here that she first impressed critics, audiences, and stakeout detectives alike.

Just as 1987 had two vampire flicks vying for superiority, it also unleashed two successful buddy cop pictures. Incredibly, if you look at the box office results from that year, you’ll find that “Stakeout” narrowly outperformed “Lethal Weapon,” which itself was followed by three sequels. The sequel to “Stakeout” didn’t come around until 1993, at a time when actress Madeleine Stowe had become more well-known (i.e. less available) and the world had maybe forgotten about this fun little movie. I didn’t even know of its existence until about a month ago. Funny what a little detective work can bring to light.

  1. garethrhodes says:

    Great review. I just watched and reviewed the film too, so it’s good to get another perspective. I liked it, but it felt like an odd mix of elements. The intro was really gritty and voilent, yet for the most part, it was a fairly amiable romp about two adolescent man-child detectives. Good, if not a little uneven.

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