“Shakedown” (citywide) is mindlessly enjoyable escapist fare in which a courtroom drama is enlivened by intercutting it with a couple of wholly improbable but spectacular chases in--and above--New York. It’s said to be based on a true story, but you could have fooled me.
Peter Weller stars as Roland Dalton, a Manhattan Legal Aid attorney handed a final assignment before moving up to a cushy job at the Wall Street firm of his future father-in-law. He is to defend a black crack dealer (Richard Brooks) who has shot a cop to death in Central Park. Dalton believes the dealer is telling the truth when he insists that he fired in self-defense. He enlists the help of a grizzled undercover policeman (Sam Elliott) in investigating a ring of corrupt cops of which the dead man was a member. They’ve been reaping fortunes by shaking down drug dealers.
By chance Dalton finds himself up against his former lover, an assistant district attorney (Patricia Charbonneau), a feisty type whose presence gives him second thoughts about not only his feelings for his fiancee (Blanche Baker) but also his imminent career change.
Exposition may be elliptical to the point of murkiness, but writer-director James Glickenhaus shrewdly keeps his film terse, fast-moving and atmospheric, drawing upon photogenic New York locales that are actually largely unfamiliar. John Lindley’s sleek, expressive cinematography is a major asset, and so is Charles Bennett’s sophisticated production design.
Weller, fresh off “RoboCop,” is just fine as the driven, intense Dalton, but Glickenhaus might better have given Elliott equal time. We never get to know his cop, while we realize that Dalton is at a turning point long before he does. As in the lamentable “Fatal Beauty,” Elliott, for all his presence, is again stuck on the sidelines when he’s long overdue for the spotlight. Baker is able to bring flair and wit to her heiress, but Charbonneau’s part is strictly one-note. Antonio Fargas and Larry Joshua are terrific as the key bad guys.
One thing is amusingly bothersome about “Shakedown” (MPAA-rated R for standard action-film violence). How is it that the nosy, obsessive Dalton can be curious about how the dead cop could afford an $87,000 Porsche and not wonder how Charbonneau’s assistant district attorney can afford a penthouse apartment on Central Park West?