'Another Stakeout': Witness and story line vanish without a trace

July 23, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

Sometimes I wonder why studios send out press material with their product. For example, in the press packet with "Another Stakeout," a sequel to the excellent and successful "Stakeout" of 1987, the anonymous PR scribe quotes writer and executive prodSometimes I wonder why studios send out press material with their product. For example, in the press packet with "Another Stakeout," a sequel to the excellent and successful "Stakeout" of 1987, the anonymous PR scribe quotes writer and executive producer Jim Kouf on the subject of why it took so long to get the sequel going: "It wasn't until December, 1991, that I had a story I could get excited about."

Excited!

Jim, were you dead that day you found this "story" excitingWere you pickled in Prozac, locked up in a home somewhere, frozen in ice or amber, forced at gunpoint to read the collected works of Gore Vidal, that you could find this story exciting?

For the signal difficulty of "Another Stakeout" is that it virtually has no story. To the degree that it's enjoyable, it's enjoyable purely on the issue of "business" -- the bantering, improvisational back-and-forth between Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez as two Seattle detectives who specialize in staking out potential lawbreakers.

Estevez and Dreyfuss have "it." What's "it"? I don't know. Nobody does. You can't buy "it," you can't predict "it," and if you're the most powerful studio exec in America, you still can't order out for "it." "It" is simply the magic buzz, the electricity, the chemistry, the rogue pheromones between actors that snaps-crackles-pops to vivid life when the camera comes on.

These two guys could read the "R" section of the New York phone book or any 200-page section by Gore Vidal and bring it to wondrous life, though the R's would be a little bit livelier than the Vidal. And "Another Stakeout" is only a little bit livelier than the R's.

This time, the two of them, along with a new recruit, Rosie O'Donnell, are seconded to a beautiful home in a wealthy Seattle suburb to stake out the home next door, where a witness from the federal protection program may have taken shelter after a murder attempt. That's all? That's all.

It's a fair comic idea that Dreyfuss and O'Donnell -- an assistant district attorney -- are to play husband and wife and that Estevez is to be the "son," and that nobody is enthusiastic about the fiction, so they keep screwing up and having to improvise madly. Much of the comedy relates to the couple next door, the O'Haras -- Dennis Farina and Marla Strassman --- who cannot begin to fathom the strangeness of their new neighbors. It also helps that Madeline Stowe, Dreyfuss' love and stakeout object of the original, is still around, in an unbilled cameo.

O'Donnell fits in nicely with the guys; these sequences, particularly a horrifying dinner party ordeal with the baffled O'Haras, are consistently amusing. Unfortunately, too much time spent on getting in and out of houses and rooms in fits of comic frenzy; that grows tiresome.

And, as I say, the nominal narrative is so sketchy it's hardly worth repeating. In the original, Aidan Quinn, as a very smart hard-core con, was a chilling and compelling figure; he made the movie work as much as did the wordplay between Estevez and Dreyfuss (the original was a brilliant balancing act, by the way). Here, the bad guy is a generically imagined hit man played by Miguel Ferrar, an actor who has in the past displayed considerable edge and nastiness but who hardly gets an iota of screen time. The hit man-victim plot (Cathy Moriarty is the witness hiding in the basement) is whispers and vapors; the movie is so sloppy it never really establishes the relationship between Moriarty and Farina's Brian O'Hara.

And still again, the police subtext of the original was convincing. One sensed detective culture: hyper-macho, brutally competitive, full of hostile but clever practical jokes, yet also impressively competent and heroic. In one sequence, Dreyfuss, using personal manipulation skills honed by years on the job, talked a drunken, angry brother-in-law out of his violence, really handled him in a way only a street-smart cop would know. There's nothing even remotely comparable in "Another": the police stuff all seems juvenile and phony, including an extended scene where Estevez and Dreyfuss quip with each other under gunfire. In the first movie, gunfire was real, potentially lethal and scary as hell; here it's a joke.

But at least Jim Kouf was excited. I wonder what he'd consider boring?

"Another Stakeout"

Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Emilio Estevez and Rosie O'Donnell

Directed by John Badham

Released by Touchstone

Rated PG-13

** 1/2

More movie reviews

Reviews of "Coneheads" and "Poetic Justice" appear in the Today section.

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