Shakedown, or Blue Jean Cop as it’s known in the Australia, is exactly the type of cheesy ’80s action entertainment that you would expect to find in old VHS bargain bins. If this appeals to you, there’s a good chance you’ll have a good time with Shakedown, but if you prefer sophistication with your action…look elsewhere. The flick was written and directed by James Glickenhaus, who was also responsible for such movies as The Exterminator, The Soldier and The Protector, which gives you a good idea of what you’re in for. And for what it is, Shakedown is fun enough, with some notable set-pieces and a few surprisingly strong actors. It’s flawed, to be sure, but it’s by no means unwatchable.
In Central Park, drug dealer Michael Jones (Richard Brooks) shoots a corrupt police officer, which leads to his arrest. Although Jones admits he killed the cop, he pleads self-defence, claiming that he felt threatened and was simply trying to protect himself. Brought in to defend Michael is Roland Dalton (Peter Weller), who’s convinced that his client did not fire first. As he delves into the case, he finds that the incident is the tip of an iceberg of widespread corruption in the police department, and his investigation puts him in the line of fire. Dalton’s friend Richie Marks (Sam Elliott) teams up with him to help him crack the case, working both inside and outside the law to expose the corrupt cops. Complicating matters is the fact that Dalton’s former flame Susan Cantrell (Patricia Charbonneau) is the attorney prosecuting Michael.
Although Shakedown apparently wants to be taken seriously since it spends long stretches in a courtroom, the embellished idiocy of the action set-pieces says otherwise. It is a bit of a jarring mishmash, since it’s not straight-faced enough to be a profound drama and not fast-paced enough to be straight-up awesome as action junk. Nevertheless, it is watchable, and the attempt to do something more serious is definitely appreciated. However, the third act is one big jumbled rush, barrelling through the proceedings as quickly as possible to reach the credits. As a result, the ending feels too simplified, quick and easy, as if the director was sick of his own film and wanted to sprint to the finish line without any thought towards coherency or logic. As a matter of fact, bits of pieces of the film do seem to be missing, as if the flick had a torpedo taken to it in the cutting room. Then again, the home video version of Shakedown (which I viewed) runs 95 minutes, whereas the original cinema cut was apparently 112 minutes. Of course, I cannot be certain and I’m not sure if this information is accurate, but the reported additional material might rectify these problems; as it is, the film feels wildly incomplete.
From a historical perspective, it’s fascinating to view Shakedown. In an early scene, Marks is in a cinema that’s screening The Soldier, one of writer-director Glickenhaus’ earlier movies. Minutes later, Marks and Dalton wander past cinema marquees which display titles like Death Wish 4, American Justice, Steel Dawn and Deadly Illusion. Gosh, they just do not make movies titled with such gusto anymore. Shakedown embodies the type of cheesiness we have come to expect from the ’80s, as well; Glickenhaus orchestrates a number of entertaining action set-pieces pushing the boundaries of plausibility. In one scene, Marks even uses his bare hands to destroy the controls of a rollercoaster, causing it to fly right off the track. In another scene, Dalton is in a taxi, and a crane accidentally snags the car, lifting it right over a police barricade and onto the front steps of the courthouse. To the credit of Glickenhaus and his crew, such scenes were pulled off competently, and it’s easy to appreciate the stunt work that must’ve gone into the shoot. That said, there is a scene towards the end with Marks holding onto the underside of a plane which does look fake, but such phoniness adds to the cheesy charm of the flick.
Shakedown holds a lot of appeal due to its cast, which contains a few recognisable names. At the centre of the film is underrated RoboCop star Peter Weller, who’s suitably charismatic in the role of Dalton. It’s a business-as-usual performance for Weller, but he’s good at what he does, and he’s eminently watchable. Ditto for Sam Elliott, one of the manliest actors you will ever see, who leans on his usual shtick as Richie Marks. Elliott and Weller are a terrific on-screen pair, bantering with ease. Also notable is a painfully underused John C. McGinley, while Patricia Charbonneau is a top-notch pick for Susan; she’s sexy, and her acting is unusually strong.
There is not much more which can be said about Shakedown, which is enjoyable enough in the moment but provides no lasting impact, nor is it overly distinguishable from similar efforts. It’s a movie designed to consist of action and stunts, providing images of explosions, gunfire, shattering glass and impossible acts. It’s a niche film, so it will only appeal to those who like this kind of thing. Everyone else need not apply.