Two of the manliest voices in Hollywood enter the grimy underbelly of New York City to crack down a case involving drug dealers and crooked cops in James Glickenhaus’ Shakedown. Peter Weller’s Roland Dalton is a public defender on his last case before retirement. The case in question is that of Richard Brooks’ Michael Jones, a crack dealer on trial for shooting dead a police officer. Brooks claims it was an act of self-defense after the police officer attempted to rob him of his drugs and money. Dalton enlists the aid of Sam Elliott’s Richie Marks, a narcotics agent, to help him solve the case. As the plot unfolds, both our heroes sink deeper into a larger conspiracy of corruption deep within the seedy underground of New York City. Can they exonerate Michael Jones, or will both heroes be buried beneath the gritty New York streets?
From the dirt and grime of New York City to the gruff and rugged masculinity of its characters, Shakedown is a time capsule to an era that no longer exists. One of the strongest aspects of Glickenhaus’ film is how authentically he displays the gritty aesthetic of 80’s New York. You can practically smell the city from the screen. Nothing is welcoming about Shakedown’s New York City where only the worst of the worst live. In Shakedown, danger lurks within every corner of the city.
Amidst the smoky haze is Elliott’s Richie Marks, the rugged loner sporting one of the greatest mustaches in film history. In contrast, is Weller’s Roland Dalton, the clean-cut straight man to Marks’ macho tough guy. Dalton’s brains mixed with Marks’ brawn makes for an interesting dynamic. Most buddy films would have both characters meeting for the first time, but from the moment both characters appear together onscreen, their interaction hints at past adventures. It’s a shame that Shakedown never had any sequels because the charisma from Weller and Elliott could have spawned countless sequels.
Part legal drama and part action film, Shakedown runs the risk of feeling tonally inconsistent, but in some strange way, both blend seamlessly. Whether hanging out in the courtroom with Dalton or chasing down some thugs with Marks, Shakedown moves at a sprightly pace. In part, it works not only because the characters are compelling, but also because James Glickenhaus is adept at balancing two different genres. As we watch Dalton in the courtroom, it’s clear to see that he’s good and passionate about his job despite his self-proclaimed desire to retire. Weller’s presence helps move the courtroom sequences along at a good pace.
Glickenhaus’ strengths also extend to the action sequences. Not quite as action-heavy as one would expect, but the sequences we do get in Shakedown are high-octane spectacle! The first car chase in the film is viscerally astounding and further proves that practical effects will always triumph over CGI. The action does little to further the plot in any meaningful way, but the skill and craft do more than enough to provide surface-level thrills. It’s an expertly composed symphony of car flips and explosions.
The weakest aspects of Shakedown come from its faulty plot and script. While Peter Weller does the most with the material he’s given, the love triangle between him, Patricia Charbonneau, and Blanche Baker is extraneous. A subplot with a final resolution that is both anticlimactic and mean-spirited should have been fleshed out or cut out entirely. Had they cut out that one subplot, there might have been more time to build to a stronger conclusion because the third act falls where the previous acts soared. Shakedown ends ten minutes after it should have ended and it’s due to the fact that the film needed to close out all the loose threads.
Shakedown is a rusty time capsule to the sleazy action film of the 80s. While the plot only serves as a table setting for the action set pieces, it’s justified when the action is expertly executed. Peter Weller and Sam Elliott’s dynamite chemistry is the glue that holds this film together; they’re truly a match made in heaven. It’s easy to see why a film like Shakedown was dismissed at its time of release, but now, in a time where action films feel artificial, Shakedown is a film where the action actually feels exciting and authentic. For fans of old-school action films, Shakedown is a spectacle from beginning to end.