26th Feb: “Deadly Pursuit” (1988)
Celebrating 28 days of underrated 80s cinematic treasures.
Yet again, I was amazed when I found this movie. Also known as Shoot to Kill, this marked the return of Sidney Poitier after a significant hiatus. It seemed the perfect time for him to return, just as action films were beginning to reach a revolutionary high. We were getting beyond the gritty street cop movies like Dirty Harry which were starting to look more like procedurals. Within the last three years of the 80s, we were struck where it hurts, with films like Lethal Weapon and Die Hard. We also started to see a few martial arts action films start to get less street and more into the zone of flight and fancy. As the 90s drew close, we were about to see a lot more coming down the pike, but at the same time, many would get lost or discarded along the way. It’s a huge surprise that this movie never gained the traction it deserved. It’s got a lot of what you came to know and love from Crocodile Dundee, Cliffhanger, or the Fugitive, all rolled into one.
Maybe it was the “all rolled into one” aspect that became a factor here. This was one of those quick change movies that, much like a five year old, never stays still for one moment. But it still an action film with moments that will have you creeping to the edge of your seat.
I want to say that the pacing of this film is solid, although, in the same breath we sometimes feel as though we’re ride hopping at the theme park. We settle for a moment only to have the rug pulled dramatically.
The set pieces are plentiful, and it was as if this could have been a pilot for a weekly television series. We begin with a jewellery shop robbery, which escalates to an FBI standoff against an unseen assailant’s mansion where a kidnapper makes his demands to the man in charge, in this case, Warren Stantin, played by Sidney Poitier in a return to film role after an on screen absence of 9 years.
After a failed attempt to apprehend the thief, of which results in a fatal shooting of the kidnapped victim, Stantin begins a manhunt that leads to another victim out beyond the city limits. The killer has not only made a clear break across the wild countryside, but he has assumed the identity of his victim — a middle aged man who was about to join a fishing expedition, across the mountainous terrain. The leader of that expedition is Sarah Rennel, played with gusto by Kirstie Alley — when she was a respectable role model.
Once the FBI put two-and-two together, they realise that the man they are after is pretending to go along on that expedition and so, Stantin is referred to wilderness expert, Jonathon Knoxx, played by Tom Berenger. The reason why he needs Knoxx’s help is two fold: he knows all about surviving out in the sticks, and two, he’s the boyfriend of Sarah Rennel who’s life is no doubt in danger. Knoxx fears the worst, but Stantin is determined to settle the score, and put an end to this chase, without any further loss of life.
Sarah Rennel and her band of fishing enthusiasts have no idea that there is a wolf among them. We as an audience don’t know either, but that setup is short lived. But that is just as well, as this film isn’t just a who-dun-it. That trope is merely used for a short time and done that way on purpose. We’re an impatient audience in this case, as much as Stantin is impatient to get to his man before it is too late.
Knoxx is also impatient. He knows that the longer it takes to catch up to the expedition, the less chance there would be to find Sarah alive. Once Knoxx realises that Stantin is not only just a fish out of water, he’s slowing him down, the tension between the two men begin to rise. Both are experts within their own relative environment. A conflict of personality is at play here. Stantin is street smart, man of the city, and that’s the way he likes it. Knoxx is the rural wilderness expert, and both play off each other with absolute resistance, mixed in with a staggered determination. The conflict is in their personalities, which quickly escalates to be about their surroundings. Their environment changes at the turn of a page, much like it did on the fantasy planet Genesis on Star Trek Three: The Search for Spock, although that comparison ends there.
The killer snowstorm that takes places seems to come out of nowhere and ends as swiftly as it comes in. For me that was the only part that stopped me in my tracks, and was present only to serve the notion that no matter who we are and where we come from, sometimes we have to depend on one another to survive. I do think that the message could have been delivered to us in a more fitting way.
But this film isn’t about survival techniques. It’s a thrill ride that keeps moving fast. The pacing of this film was ahead of its time, and is as abundantly full of set pieces as it is with action sequences. It doesn’t dwell on fluff, or one-liners, nor does it make a point about the chalk and cheese aspect of buddy characters getting along. It’s a forgotten film that will have you gripped.
It’s a shame that this movie may have gotten lost within the spate of late 80s Lethal Weapon clones. I deserves more than that.
It did a great job, and provided a fun blueprint for Poitier to get back into his film career with something more than just the cerebral. His adventurous spirit shines bright here, and it’s a shame that it never was given the credit for being ahead of the 90s action game.
Written by: Stephen Radford