Home Video Hovel: Shakedown, by David Bax
James Glickenhaus’ Shakedown is really two movies. Neither of them is especially good but one of them is, at least, a great deal of fun. Glickenhaus’ inability to maintain a consistent tone shouldn’t really be surprising, though, once you realize this is a movie that can’t even keep its characters’ names straight. The cop whose death kicks off the plot is mostly known as Patrick O’Leary except when, on at least two occasions, he is suddenly referred to as Dan O’Leary. Maybe Dan is Patrick’s alternate reality counterpart and his backwards dimension is crossing over with ours, turning up into down and left into right, as well as apparently turning the Red Hot Chili Peppers into rap music and Jimi Hendrix into heavy metal (baffling assertions that are both made by characters here). Or maybe this is all just par for the course in a movie where Sam Elliott plays a seemingly superhuman action hero who dangles off overpasses, blows up motorcycles and jumps onto moving airplanes.
When Patrick/Dan O’Leary (Jude Ciccolella), an off-duty police officer, is gunned down in Central Park by a drug dealer (Richard Brooks), public defender Roland Dalton (Peter Weller) is assigned to defend the killer. With the help of loner, iconoclast detective Richie Marks (Elliott), apparently the one honest man in the NYPD, Dalton comes to find that the shooting was in self-defense and that O’Leary belonged to a corrupt ring of cops who are robbing dealers and selling the goods themselves. Now it’s up to Dalton and Marks to take down the whole cabal. Pretty much everything that happens next is incredibly far-fetched but Glickenhaus goes at least a short way toward grounding events by shooting on location. Shakedown is, if nothing else, a tactile time capsule of late 1980s Manhattan, complete with multiple loving shots of the World Trade Center.
Of course, that also means the movie is guilty of a particular, late 80s brand of cinematic racism. There is hardly a black character in the whole movie who isn’t either a drug addict or a drug dealer. The other main reason black men exist in the movie’s world is so that white criminals can by threatened with being raped by them should they be sent to prison. That specific thing happens two different times.
At least you rarely have to be offended for too long before getting distracted by one of the over-the-top action sequences that keep breaking out in the middle of this otherwise gritty (but no less ludicrous) crime drama. Sometimes Glickenhaus (who also wrote the screenplay) seems to be intentionally having a laugh over the juxtaposition, like when Dalton goes directly from a smash-em-up car chase to a court proceeding like he has one of those Last Action Hero tickets and he’s jumping from movie to movie. Shakedown may be two different films but at least one of them has Elliott swinging from a lamppost with a massive pistol in his hand.
Shout’s transfer is impeccable. Whatever they used as a source was spectacularly well-preserved as this often looks like a freshly struck print. The audio is in stereo.
The all-new special features include lots participation from Glickenhaus. He filmed an introduction, recorded a commentary and sat for an interview. There’s even an entire featurette devoted to the time he saved Miles Davis from a car wreck.