I know I give the impression of disliking popcorn movies for the most part, but nobody loves good crap as much as I when it’s really done right. I was thinking last night about John Badham‘s Stakeout, which I saw and loved 21 years ago at the Cinerama Dome, and wondering why no-big-deal caper movies like this don’t happen more often.
The reason Stakeout works, of course, is that it’s not some throwaway buddy-cop movie about trying to catch an escaped fugitive. It’s a movie about a thoughtful 40ish poilceman suddenly and surprisingly falling in love (i.e., Richard Dreyfuss + Madeline Stowe), and his knowing without question that the girl in the house across the street is vitally important to know, be with, care for and protect. The trick is that Stakeout is disguised as as an amiable jerkoff buddy-cop thing. Plus it’s one of the best films ever about voyeurism, second only to Rear Window.
“Stealth” is what genre filmmakers never seem to get, or don’t have the talent to follow through upon. The way to make a run-of-the-mill genre film special is to pay attention to the undercurrent and shape it so it’s about something personal and intimate — any kind of heart issue, including creative ambition or career or whatever — while adhering to genre conventions.
98% of genre filmmakers (fantasy, crime, you-name-it) always seem to think in terms of elements. They think success of failure is defined by stars, plot, fights, car chases, FX. They never seem to realize that while these things work as selling points, they don’t matter to all that much to anyone (except for the under-20 morons) and are actually profoundly secondary. Movies that really work are always about characters trying to connect with some fundamental emotion or goal. If you get that part right, then you can add in the genre conventions any old way and you’re off to the races.