ICYMI: Shakedown (1988)
Growing up in the 1980’s meant I was able to cinematically feast on a buffet of buddy action films. You know, the kind of flicks full of macho-posturing, bare knuckle brawling, old fashion professional stunt work, antagonistic one-liners and just a tinge of homoeroticism. The trend was ceremoniously catalyzed by the 1982 classic 48 HRS. Director Walter Hill caught lightning in a bottle with Eddie Murphy’s star-making performance alongside Nick Nolte’s career rejuvenating work in a film that was critically praised and a box office smash. Its success led to a parade of wannabes and knockoffs (Collision Course, Dead Heat, Renegades, Tango & Cash) but also a handful of worthy additions to the genre (Lethal Weapon, Red Heat, Midnight Run). And to the list of outstanding buddy action films of the 80's I would have you consider adding 1988’s Shakedown.
From director James Glickenhaus (The Exterminator, The Protector) comes this quintessential 80’s action flick that stars Peter Weller as a public defender who’s latest drug dealer client ensnares him in a web of police corruption. Thankfully, Weller’s best friend is A) the only honest cop in New York and B) played by Sam Elliot and his glorious mustache. Peter Weller, who was fresh off of the success of 1987’s Robocop, seems to relish every second of screen time not being confined to a metal suit and enjoys great rapport with Sam Elliot, who is having fun being Sam Elliot. We never get an explanation of how these two became friends, nor do we need one, we are just along for the ride.
And surprisingly, the ride even includes some quieter/goofy moments. There’s the tasteless but funny scene where we watch a white collar criminal find out about the justice system’s new condom policy. We get caught up in Weller’s early morning joy as he makes an Orange Julius to the sounds of Jimi Hendrix. And we get a completely out of left field monologue from Sam Elliot about “the one that got away” and his tragic night meeting her dog.
Watching the film in the current age of police mistrust and calls for social justice may be a bit jarring but this film isn’t about reform or political speeches, it’s about action. We get an entertaining shootout and chase near Times Square with Sam Elliot descending a light pole, as well as a foot chase through Coney Island that concludes on a runaway roller coaster, a race to the courthouse that requires a crane to snag a cab and the film climaxes with a truly ludicrous sequence in which Weller and Elliot chase down a private plane full of bad guys in a stolen Porsche and Elliot hitches a ride and then bails out successfully into the ocean below. And if you’re not sold yet, we also get the sparkling presence of Antonio Fargas (aka Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch) as the drug kingpin whose empire is at stake.
Films like Shakedown are definitely representative of a bygone era. Nowadays, audiences looking for action are relegated to the superhero genre courtesy of the DC and Marvel cinematic universes, the Fast and Furious franchise, and the secret agent genre embodied by James Bond and the Mission: Impossible films. I’m not saying one is better than the other, you take good action where you can find it. But if you’re feeling particularly nostalgic maybe 97 minutes with Peter Weller and Sam Elliot is what you need.