Peter Weller continues to be awesome: “Shakedown”

February 3, 2013

poster2Well, I’m gonna close the book on “Overlooked Action Movies Week,” even though I was hoping to fit 1985’s Year of the Dragon in here—guess I’ll have to get to that another time. But I figure we might as well go out on a high note, and what better way to do that than with the always-indelible Peter Weller? That’s right, hepcats and hepkittens, we are back in the presence of one of the coolest actors still working. The only dude (to the best of my knowledge) has played Robocop, punched a Leviathan in the face, and teaches art history at UCLA. I mean, I suppose it’s possible that Burt Young does a couple of those things, but it seems unlikely. Anyway, to summon The Weller, we have to take a look at 1988’s Shakedown.

So, Shakedown began life as Blue Jean Cop—a reference to corrupt cops—and, yeah, it’s a good thing they made change, because this is not—not—a movie that needs multiple words in the title. Basically, it’s a buddy crime/thriller, with The Weller playing Roland Dalton (even his character’s name is awesome), a live-wire public defender, who, along with NYPD detective Richie Marks (Sam Elliott) are up against…well, the movie’s not real clear on that.

See, Dalton is defending a low-level drug-dealer (Richard Brooks, who played ADA Robinette on the first seasons of Law & Order 20-some years ago and the last guy who makes a convincing ‘80s street tough), who shot an undercover cop. Only the dealer claims that the cop never identified himself as a police officer before opening fire on him. Tugging on this strand leads Dalton and Marks (who’s pretty much along for the ride) to a vein of corruption within the NYPD who are on the take to a drug kingpin named…uh…whatever. He barely shows up in the movie.

The movie's...villain? Maybe?

The movie’s…villain? Maybe?

At the same time, Dalton is confronted by a ghost from his past in the form of ADA Susan Cantrell (Patricia Charbonneau). Cantrell and Dalton were once involved, but the relationship went south, and now he’s engaged to a trust-fund bubblehead whose daddy promises to give Dalton a lucrative position at his firm. Sparring with her in the courtroom rekindles that old flame, and pretty soon the two of them are exchanging oral arguments between the sheets (ha! See what I did there?)

But none of this really does the film justice. What you really get with this movie is:

* Dalton’s morning breakfast routine consists of listening to Jimi Hendrix while throwing milk, orange juice, a raw egg, and coffee grounds in a blender. I’m pretty sure Weller’s day begins the same way.

* This was filmed in gritty New York, and it’s a kick to see a grimy, graffiti-strewn Times Square, carpeted with broken crack vials.

This happened pretty much any time you went into a NYC restroom in the '80s

This happened every time you went into a NYC restroom in the ’80s

* How ‘80s is this movie? Even the bad guys wear Cosby-style sweaters.

* Marks sleeps in a flea-pit Times Square movie theater, and keeps a toothbrush and toothpaste in the men’s room. I bet Sam Elliott…doesn’t actually live that way.

* The movie grows more lurid and far-fetched as it goes along. It begins like Serpico and and ends…well, like if Sperico was directed by a committee of 13 year-olds.

The jokes just write themselves...

The jokes just write themselves…

* The scenes between Weller and Charbonneau feel like they were dropped in from another movie. I mean, they’re discussing the joys and disappointments of their chosen paths, meanwhile Sam Elliott is running over some dude with a roller-coaster.

* Elliott takes part in a rain which…consists of bursting into a nightclub and shooting into the ceiling a lot. That just seems unsafe.

* “Is this some female territorial doo-wop?” I’m pretty sure Weller ad-libbed most of his lines (particularly, his bebop/scatting delivery). Because he’s awesome that way.

Behold! The most awesome hair that ever has been...

Behold! The most awesome hair that ever has been…

* The evil drug lord is such a non-presence in this movie, I couldn’t even tell you his name. Most of the time, Dalton and Marks just fight random lackeys who…I dunno, just show up to kill them for whatever reason. It doesn’t matter, because it usually leads to a chase and/or shootout.

* Did I mention that Sam Elliot kills a dude with a roller coaster? He does. He totally does. I’m pretty sure he’s the only guy in the movie history to have done that.

* This movie boasts the best-worst action climax ever.

And it gets worse from here...

And it gets worse from here…

Now, I know what you’re wondering: What’s the status of Weller’s hair? Well, I’d be lying if I said it was as mythic as it was in Leviathan (we mere mortals shall never see the likes of that again), but, I gotta say, it’s pretty awesome. This is some roguish, “get-the-hell-out-of-my-way” hair. It’s hair that has survived the wild, decadence of early ‘80s New York City and has come out the other side spoiling for a fight with the era of crack-cocaine and pleated pants.

Anyway, that’s Shakedown. Man, Peter Weller is never not awesome.

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