I think home video–tape and disc–has done a great disservice to John Badham and his legacy… as in, with this digital (or analog) evidence, one has easy access. Instead of coming across Stakeout at 11:30 P.M. on a Thursday night, pan and scanned, cut for content, and full of commercials, I can sit and watch it on DVD (finally widescreen) and observe just how much better a lot of it works in the late night context.
Stakeout is a cop sitcom, with occasional moments of violence, which I imagine one can thank Badham for including. I mean, it gets so violent at times, particularly at the end, it’s jarring. Stakeout establishes itself, early on, as two things–first, an opportunity to watch a hungry Aidan Quinn tear up the screen (did I really just type, “tear up the screen?” I mean, he does–it’s a really physical performance, he’s jumping all over the place for attention–but it’s still a lame line)–and second, as a harmless comedy. The cops joke around all the time (there was apparently very little violent crime in Seattle in the late 1980s) and most of their attention is spent on summer camp pranks.
Stakeout works for two primary reasons–the script and the cast. The script’s got some really endearing, funny scenes and it’s paced in such a way… well, if one were watching it late night and had gone to get a soda or a microwave burrito (or just fallen asleep for a bit), he or she might be confused and think Richard Dreyfuss at one point meets Madeleine Stowe’s mother. Kouf’s real good at creating a working reality for the film–with an unseen ex for Dreyfuss and a barely seen wife for Emilio Estevez–only in the mind of the viewer.
Dreyfuss is solid in the lead, Estevez is excellent as the sidekick though, the real surprise of the film. Stowe’s good, she and Dreyfuss have chemistry, but she occasionally tries an accent. I think it’s supposed to be Mexican Irish, but it comes off bad. Quinn’s fantastic, like I said before, and so is Ian Tracey as his sidekick (I wonder if the film were ever a juxtaposing of the two duos, with the primary leading the other down a reckless path… probably not). Dan Lauria and Forest Whitaker are funny as the prank cops….
Badham does a decent job throughout, helping with some of the endearing quality through his establishing shots (really, this one is a big complement). During the chase scenes and at the end, his work is the best. It’s dumb, “T.J. Hooker” action and he does it well. The big problem–Stakeout goes on about fifteen minutes too long–gets a quick fix, with Badham and director of photography John Seale (doing his best work of the film) create a really good ending to the film, which made me think about how Badham “movies” (I hate how he wants them to be called movies) ought to be seen, not watched.*
* The difference, of course, being in the viewer’s amount of control. An uncontrolled viewing is seen (theatrical or televised) and a controlled viewing (home video) is watched.
Directed by John Badham; written by Jim Kouf; director of photography, John Seale; edited by Tom Rolf; music by Arthur B. Rubinstein; production designer, Philip Harrison; produced by Kouf and Cathleen Summers; released by Touchstone Pictures.
Starring Richard Dreyfuss (Det. Chris Lecce), Emilio Estevez (Det. Bill Reimers), Madeleine Stowe (Maria McGuire), Aidan Quinn (Richard ‘Stick’ Montgomery), Dan Lauria (Det. Phil Coldshank), Forest Whitaker (Det. Jack Pismo), Ian Tracey (Caylor Reese), Earl Billings (Captain Giles), Jackson Davies (FBI Agent Lusk) and J.J. Makaro (B.C).