Very few actors have ever come back from the dead quite as spectacularly as Richard Dreyfuss, whose career all but vanished after the one-two punch of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Goodbye Girl (he got the Oscar for the latter). It took close to a decade for Dreyfuss to shake off some bad film choices and some well-publicized drug scrapes.
Then, last year, he surfaced amongst the convivial ensemble of Down and Out in Beverly Hills. A few months ago, Tin Men saw him cruising at his former speed. Now Stakeout completes the rehabilitation process. All three films are from Disney’s Touchstone Pictures.
Dreyfuss owns Stakeout. It’s ostensibly a cop-buddy movie, the plot of which puts Dreyfuss and partner Emilio Estevez on an extended stakeout. But it becomes clear early on that Estevez has drawn strictly sidekick duty here; this is really Dreyfuss’s showcase.
The two cops are ensconced in a dilapidated house across the street from the home of a woman (Madeleine Stowe) who is the ex-girlfriend of a vicious escaped criminal (Aidan Quinn). The cops figure the con may visit the house, so they settle in for a long and boring stakeout.
Except that Dreyfuss finds himself unduly attracted to the object of the watch. He inadvertently makes contact, and is quickly interacting with her in ways that would make Jack Webb’s hair turn white. Estevez, of course, watches from across the street.
Jim Kouf’s script catches a lot of the humor of the situation, particularly the bantering among the cops on the tedious duty. Dreyfuss and Estevez bicker a lot about movie trivia (there’s an inside joke about Jaws, which starred Dreyfuss) and JFK’s assassination.
John Badham, whose direction can be good (War Games) or bad (Short Circuit) depending on the script, is nimble enough here. The lightness of tone almost short-circuits the movie, particularly during a farcical car chase when Dreyfuss has to exit Stowe’s house after spending the night with her, and the police mistake him for the escaped con.
Luckily, when the psychopathic escapee does show up (I’m not giving a surprise away, the film makes it inevitable) Badham gets the danger back into it. Some of this has to do with the sheer intensity of Aidan Quinn, who continues to look like one of the best actors in America.
For the most part, the movie’s loosey-goosey and wisecracking, which fits Dreyfuss perfectly. He rips through the film with all the confidence of the young bantam he was in Jaws and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. Welcome back.
Oh yeah, the film is set in Seattle. You know this because one character wears a Seahawks cap, there’s a fight in a fish-processing plant, and a totem pole is being carved in front of the police station. (Please!) But the whole thing was shot in Vancouver, B.C., because the Canadian dollar is currently so agreeable. So try not to snicker when the Expo ’86 grounds flash by outside Richard Dreyfuss’s apartment—it’s all part of the illusion, folks.
First published in the Herald, August 1987
Couple of things here that have been generally forgotten: That Stakeout was a big hit movie, and that Dreyfuss had a bona fide comeback. You never hear this film mentioned today, but it was very successful (made the year’s top ten grossers) and generally liked. I see I was impressed with Aidan Quinn back then, and at this moment his promising career took a mystifying turn. Stowe should have been huge as well; this was her first significant thing in movies, and of course she had a nice run for a while. There was a sequel, but who remembers Another Stakeout?