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MOVIE REVIEW : ‘STAKEOUT’ STAKES OUT FAMILIAR TERRITORY

Times Film Critic

High concept strikes again. “Stakeout” (citywide) is another one of those Touchstone enterprises that can be entirely comprehended in its one-sentence description: A detective falls in love with a woman he has under surveillance.

In that swift summation, you may miss nuances of performance, in particular the impeccable comic timing of Richard Dreyfuss--old excesses scraped off, the better to reveal a lovely, disciplined actor. You might miss the playful buddy-buddy ease between Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez, or Aidan Quinn’s neurotic twitches as Stick the dangerous escapee, or the high-gloss beauty that cinematographer John Seale has put on the film’s many nighttime scenes. But “Stakeout” is this summer’s suntan lotion: It won’t linger in the memory any better than it would survive a quick dip in the pool.

Screenwriter/co-producer Jim Kouf and director John Badham have made everything happen with the by-the-numbers regularity of a screenwriting How-to class. Big opening action sequence which establishes partners Dreyfuss and Estevez as jaunty-jolly detectives as well as ones loyal to the death. Violent escape scene to let us know that the hair-trigger Quinn is one mean and dangerous man. (The movie’s R rating is for these brutal scenes and for its tough language.)

It’s with the introduction of Quinn’s one-time lady love, Maria McGuire (Madeleine Stowe), that good sense goes straight to the scrapheap. Dreyfuss and Estevez are half of a surveillance team assigned to keep 24-hour watch on her house. She and Dreyfuss meet when he must bug her two telephones and comes to her door late one evening posing as a phone man--having already caused trouble on her line.

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Does anyone believe that these days a savvy city woman--and Stowe plays a waitress with a late-night shift--living alone, would open wide her door and let a strange man into her house, no matter how many tools he had hanging off his webbed belt? Telephone Company ID is a good starting point, gentlemen.

Dumb details like this make Maria McGuire a completely unreal creation--a Plasticine lady who bends whichever way the writer wants her to, as far-fetched as the two-story house and handsome furnishings she manages on her waitress’ salary.

Next is their almost-instant romance which begins after their next meeting, at which she perceives Dreyfuss as “nice,” a huge change after her time with Quinn. There’s a minuscule effort to explain Dreyfuss’ character, to have him a recovering alcoholic whose live-in girlfriend has walked out as the movie begins, but these are all little bows to form--never deeply fleshed-out character details.

So we proceed with a sort of high-budget television drama, with no heat and precious little suspense. The tension is supposed to come as Quinn, with young cousin-sidekick Ian Tracey, gets closer and closer to his girlfriend’s house, but it’s a trek that seems to take as long as the Donner party’s.

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If you add to this the predictability of every element: the genial fraternity pranks of this cadre of cops (Dan Lauria, Forest Whitaker and their bulldog, who does cute takes for the camera), the final big-scale duel in a log-milling plant and the movie’s gratingly intrusive songs, you have a movie without the slightest reason for being. And at an hour and 55 minutes, not even the summer season is excuse enough for a package this big, this slick and this empty.

‘STAKEOUT’ A Buena Vista Pictures release of a Touchstone Pictures presentation. Producers Jim Kouf, Cathleen Summers. Executive producer John Badham. Director Badham. Screenplay Kouf. Camera John Seale. Editor Tom Rolf, Michael Ripps. Music Arthur B. Rubinstein. Production design Philip Harrison. Art direction Richard Husolin. Set decoration Rose Marie McSherry. Sound Larry Sutton. Associate producer Dana Salter. With Richard Dreyfuss, Emilio Estevez, Madeleine Stowe, Aidan Quinn, Dan Lauria, Forest Whitaker, Ian Tracey, Earl Billings, Jackson Davies.

Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.

MPAA-rated: R (persons under 17 must be accompanied by parent or adult guardian).

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