Wednesday 1 December 2021

Movie Review: Shoot To Kill (1988)

A crime thriller, Shoot To Kill (also known as Deadly Pursuit) is a picturesque adventure chase, lacking character depth but packed with literal cliffhangers.

In San Francisco, FBI agent Warren Stantin (Sidney Poitier) attempts to negotiate with a ruthless criminal holding a hostage as part of a diamond theft. The incident ends badly, with the hostage dead and the suspect fleeing with the diamonds towards rural Washington State near the Canadian border. With Stantin in pursuit, the killer joins a small adventure group exploring the mountains with guide Sarah Renell (Kristie Alley).

Stantin teams up with Sarah's boyfriend Jonathan Knox (Tom Berenger), himself a rugged mountain guide, and the two men head into the wilderness to give chase. Stantin is out of his element and dependent on Knox, who would rather be on his own than dragging an FBI agent around. Meanwhile, Sarah and her group of tourists are unaware a barbarous murderer is in their midst.

The return of Sidney Poitier to the big screen after an eleven year absence enlivens Shoot To Kill. The veteran star is in good form, mixing gravitas with decent athleticism and traces of humour, bouncing off rugged co-star Tom Berenger to good effect. 

Director Roger Spottiswoode centres his attention on the two actors and uses a couple of anchor themes to ensure continuous entertainment. The partners-as-opposites buddy movie elements between Stantin (urban, Black, cars, restaurants) and Knox (rural, white, horses, marmot-on-a-stick) are sustained and well-developed. In parallel, the who-is-the-killer guessing game within Sarah's group adds a clever sub-mystery to the typical action dynamics. The antagonist's cold-blooded brutality contributes a spiky layer of venom.

With the mountains providing a majestic backdrop, Spottiswoode captures memorable scenes of endurance and danger, including a climb up a vertical cliff wall, blizzard survival in a snow cave, and a breathtaking misadventure above a steep gorge. A stubborn horse, a bear and a moose add semi-comic distractions.

Less impressive are the shallow charecterizations. 109 minutes come and ago and barely anything is revealed about Stantin, Knox, Sarah and the killer beyond the broadest superficialities. In particular, significant opportunities are missed in the interactions between the criminal and Sarah, when his survival depends on her expert know-how. And once the drama moves out of the mountains and into Vancouver on the Canadian side of the border, the run-and-shoot showdowns quickly become contrived and routine. 

Despite Sidney Poitier's preference for a suit and a city, Shoot To Kill demonstrates better aim in the crisp mountain air.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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