a Primal Root written review
Sam Elliott and Peter Weller are my guys. I’ll see just about anything featuring either of these two actors due to their excellent body of work , both Trashy and Embraced by the Masses. Come on, Elliott’s the main reason to visit Swayze’s “Road House” (1989), not to mention his turn as the enigmatic Stranger in the seldom seen lost classic, “The Big Lebowski (1998) and Peter Weller’s filmography is basically a who’s who of sci-fi cult cinema, from Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 action masterpiece, “Robocop” to 1984’s bomb-come-cult flick, “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.” And, as we all know, when two legends cross paths, one must always pay strict attention.
To my own shock and amazement, “Shakedown,” a film featuring two icons of cinematic strangeness, and strange plot that takes your from the heights of wacky action to the morose happenings of a court room drama and every imaginable place between, is not heralded as I had originally imagined upon hearing of it’s existence. I am hoping to correct that issue with this review.
Shakedown takes place on the tough, unforgiving streets of New York City and it’s tough, unforgiving courtrooms. It’s a tale of police corruption, murder and badass action sequences. The film begins with a big time drug dealer having to defend his life from a crazed cracker who shows up, asks for a fix, then pulls a gun on him. The cracker ends up dead as rat shit while our drug dealer, Michael (Richard Brooks), ends up wounded and on trial for the murder of a cop who never identified himself and was obviously looking to steal the gentleman’s crops and money. Thankfully, we see Michael press the REC button on his ghetto blaster, but the film forgets all about that until the last act of the movie once it becomes a life or death situation.
Thankfully for Michael the drug dealer, he has two of the coolest mother fuckers ever to live in New York City on his side. We’re talking public defender and avid Jimi Hendrix fan, Roland Dalton (Peter “Don’t Call Me Buckaroo” Weller) and grimy, greased up, 42nd street undercover cop, Richie Marks (Sam Elliot, as grizzled and awesome as ever.) Upon hearing of the case, Roland swoops down to defend Michael against the Good Old Boys club of the NYPD who are more than willing to make people disappear in order to cover up their own crimes and deceptions. The thing Roland doesn’t realize is that he will be facing down his old flame, Susan Cantrell, (Patricia Charbonneau) the new District Attorney in this murder case. And wouldn’t you know it, this is all happening on the eve of Roland’s marriage to the young and wholly unlikable Gail Feinberger (Blanche Baker) whose Father just so happens to head the biggest law firm in the city, which means Roland will become a partner and spend his life defending the rich and powerful and making sure those with the money get to keep it. Thankfully, this recent case, plus late night discussions with his district attorney ex-girlfriend, who acts as a cock riding Jiminy Cricket, has led to Roland’s reevaluation of the whole situation. Does he want to continue taking on cases for those who are innocent of any wrong doing but society wants them punished anyway, or to live a life with a woman who scolds him for listening to rock and roll too load in the morning while blending home made Orange Julius’s and wiping the asses of spoiled, rich old geezers? Decisions, decisions…
To help uncover any evidence pertaining to the case and delve into the police corruption itself, Roland meets up with his old pal, undercover cop, Richie in the shit stained, syringe covered restroom of a dilapidated 42nd Street grindhouse. Over a few drinks in one of New York’s many watering holes, the two decide to team up and put the hurt of the NYPD’s most crooked cops, when Michael’s case and hopefully put away some scumbag pigs in the process.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the law and order proceedings that take place in the court room and are discussed in between the opposing legal team’s fuck sessions are really interesting, but the real stars of “Shakedown” are the go for broke, mind blowing, action sequences scattered throughout the film to keep you from being too mellow. While Roland is either defending or banging, Richie is chasing and beating the snot out of New York’s nastiest criminals and cops on his quest for the truth. The man is willing to use 42nd Street theater neon lights as means to leap onto the top of moving busses while opening fire on suspects! The guy chases a man onto a carnival roller coaster before starting it up and ensuring the car derails thereby sending the criminal soaring to his hysterical death! And, in probably, the greatest action sequence I have ever witnessed, Sam Elliot, as Richie, with the aid of Roland and his Porsche, manages to chase down a private jet. climb onto the jet’s landing gear as it takes off, ride that landing gear to a height where the roof of the World Trade Tower’s are visible; toss a grenade inside and then leap into the ocean before the plane lands and explodes. Yes, Richie survives with no damage worse than a wet pair of Levi’s.
It’s that combination of serious, intelligent courtroom drama and Gonzo, batshit crazy action that really makes 1988’s “Shakedown” possibly one of the strangest yet endlessly entertaining action films of the 1980’s. A lot of the appeal is derived from watching the film’s two leading men bring the big bad guys to justice as well as watching Peter Weller and Sam Elliott, two very likable cult actors, pal around and makes jokes with one another. These gentlemen never ascended to the pantheon of great action stars like Arnold, Sly and Bruce. No, Peter has become more well known a a science fiction character actor and Sam, outside of The Big Lebowski, is a bit more recognized as a western cinema staple. But here, watching the two unlikely actors turned action stars, one cannot help but marvel as they spray gun fire, make death defying leaps from buildings and spout witty retorts and villains burn to death. It’s like watching the high school A.V. geek and the guy in shop class who never bathes joining forces to crack down on high school crime. To put it bluntly, it’s a mother fucking hoot to behold.
Also, another highlight of the film for me, is that “Shakedown” features New York’s 42nd Street RIGHT before gentrification took hold, the theaters were dismantled, and the strip steadily became home to Disney stores and McDonald’s and attracted more tourists than locals. It’s a final swan song to what was once a sleazy, filthy, dangerous playground, A place of legend that is no more. Watching some good goddamn action sequences explode across this neon sodom is quite a spectacle to behold, but also a lovingly rendered final look at a place that now only exists in memory and cinema.
“Shakedown” is a one of a kind action film. Feeling like Law and Order by way of Robert Rodriguez and Michael Bay’s love child, “Shakedown” mixes together ingredients that should by no means make a tasty concoction, but manages to deliver something unique, exciting, fun and shockingly entertaining. You will be pulled in by the human drama and then blown out of your seat with astonishment and laughter as one rock ’em sock ’em action scene after another pummels you over the head with it’s bizarre and warped sense of reality. My friends, “Shakedown” must truly be seen to be believed.
“Shakedown” will shake your beliefs in action cinema to the ground. Watch it brace yourself for an awakening and an injection of pure, undiluted Trash.
I give “Shakedown” THREE and a HALF out of FIVE Dumpster Nuggets.