Written and Directed by James Glickenhaus
Produced by J. Boyce Harman, Jr.
Ask most fans of 1980s Action Movies what their favorite movie of that decade is and I think it’s a safe bet that you’ll get either “Die Hard” or “Lethal Weapon” as an answer. You’ll also get “Predator” “48 Hours” “Rambo: First Blood” “RoboCop” “Commando” “Tango & Cash” “Cobra” as answers, I’m sure.
The one movie I’m fairly certain you won’t get as an answer is SHAKEDOWN which is a pure-d damn shame as it’s easily equal to any of the other movies I’ve named in terms of story, characters and flat-out full tilt boogie action. But for some reason, SHAKEDOWN has become something of a lost movie of that era which truly blows my mind as to how that could have ever happened. It’s got two of the most dependable and likeable actors of any era; Peter Weller and Sam Elliott. It’s got stunts and action sequences that were truly outrageous for that time and even now they still give me that “Holy shit…how the hell did they film that scene?” feeling. The plot is appropriate for the era and showcases the depravity and sleaze of 1980s Manhattan in delirious glory. It’s as if director James Glickenhaus is having fun rubbing your face in how dark and dangerous New York was back then. I love it when it’s obvious that a director and his cast are having a ball making a movie and that’s the case with SHAKEDOWN.
Central Park. The West Side. A black man (Richard Brooks) is selling drugs. A white man (Jude Ciccolella) approaches the black man, saying that he wants to buy drugs. Sometime later police officers respond to reports of gunshots in Central Park (which back in 1980s Manhattan was just about an every night thing). They find the black man shot and the white man shot dead. The white man is an undercover cop. The black man claims that the white man did not identify himself as a cop and indeed, was attempting to rob the black man of his drugs and money.
Roland Dalton (Peter Weller) is a Public Defender hoping to just ride out his last week on this job before starting a new one on Wall Street working for his fiancée’s father. But this case is dropped into his lap and he finds himself facing his former lover now Assistant DA Susan Cantrell (Patricia Charbonneau). The funny thing is the more Roland talks to his client, the more he’s convinced he’s telling the truth. The guy is more than up front about what he does for a living but he’s not willing to die for it. He’d have given up the drugs and money in an eyeblink to a cop and let his boss, who he will only identify by as “N.C.” work it out. He hints of a connection between his boss and the NYPD.
Roland goes to his best friend, Richie Marks (Sam Elliott) for help. Richie is a lone wolf narcotics cop who is living in a 42end Street Grindhouse due to a spat with his wife. One of the best things about this movie is the relationship between Roland and Richie, thanks to the wonderful chemistry between Weller and Elliott. They don’t spell out their relationship, which I appreciated, but they talk in that kind of shorthand that long-time friends speak in so that you fill in the gaps for yourself. We get enough to know that they’ve been friends a long time, maybe since they were kids, growing up rough in the same neighborhood and took different, yet related ways to fight crime.
Richie advises Roland to drop the case as it involves people he doesn’t want to get mixed up with. But when Roland finds a brand-new Porsche Cabriolet in the dead cop’s garage and Richie is part of a highly suspicious bust of an upscale crack house operated by drug kingpin Nicky Carr (Antonio Fargas) the two pals decide to team up and find out the truth behind the Central Park shooting and soon find out that it isn’t the crooks they have to worry about. It’s the cops.
I remember seeing this movie in a 42end Grindhouse and having the weirdest feeling realizing that I was watching this movie in the exact same theater that Sam Elliott’s character lived in. The movie makes great use of 1980’s 42end Grindhouses as Roland and Richie meet in them and have shootouts in them. If you decide to see the movie, this is the 42end Street that you always read/hear me go on about. I’ve been in everyone of those theaters you see in this movie. Yes, including the New Amsterdam. So what.
The 42end Street shootout/chase is one of the best action sequences in the movie but there are plenty of others to enjoy, such as the Coney Island sequence where Richie has a fistfight with a hired killer on The Cyclone. And in the last ten minutes of the movie, Richie pulls off something in this one movie that out crazies anything Martin Riggs ever did in four. If you’re a fan of Richard Brooks from “Law and Order” then you’ll get a kick out of seeing how he handles things on the other side.
The budget of the movie was $6 million and it brought in $10 million at the box office which would seem to me have deserved a sequel as the movie was plainly set up for sequels with more adventures of Roland Dalton and Richie Marks taking on crime and corruption in New York. Especially in the 1980s where every Action Movie was set up to be a franchise and that’s what SHAKEDOWN has. The movie has a lot of the elements of what I like to call “A TV Movie Pilot On Steroids” in that SHAKEDOWN could easily have been a TV series if they didn’t want to go the movie franchise route. If I ever am blessed to meet either Sam Elliott or Peter Weller you can bet your ass I’m going to ask them about what happened with a SHAKEDOWN sequel.
If what I’ve told you so far hasn’t convinced you then I give up. I love SHAKEDOWN. It’s one of the best of the 1980s Action Movies. It deserves to be re-discovered and take it’s rightful place among it’s brothers in that most classic decade of Action Movies. And it’s just simply a whole lotta fun. You do could a lot worse this weekend after you take care of your religious observances than to hunt up SHAKEDOWN.