Shoot to Kill

One of the advantages of the Netflix DVD queue was that I didn’t have to hunt high and low for a number of movies that are getting increasingly hard to find on streaming platforms. One such movie is 1988’s Shoot to Kill, a movie I saw around the time I came out (I want to say in the theater, but it’s possible my dad and I rented it). It was one of a number of movies i remember seeing and thinking fondly of, so when I saw it pop up on Netflix eons ago, I put it in the queue with the intent of watching it again.

And much like the last few movies I reviewed from the DVD queue, it sat and sat until I finally did.

I’m actually surprised that this is a film that doesn’t have a home somewhere, especially since it was a Touchstone Pictures release and therefore could have easily fit on Hulu. Plus, it was successful at the time, making double its budget and clocking in at #37 for 1988. That’s not too shabby. Plus, it’s got decent star power in the form of Sidney Poitier, Tom Berenger, and Kirstie Alley. Alas, it’s a forgotten film.

So, as far as the plot goes, Poitier plays Warren Stantin, a veteran FBI special agent stationed in San Francisco who is married to his job and obsesses over cases. When the film opens, he fails to stop an unknown criminal who stole two pounds of diamonds and killed a hostage by shooting her through the eye. He wants to catch this guy, and when a body with an ocular bullet wound shows up in Washington State about an hour from the Canadian border, he heads that way.

Our killer, who we have not seen yet (everything we have seen so far is from his POV), has attached himself to a hiking/outdoor adventure group guided by Sarah Renner (Kirstie Alley), blending in as “one of the guys” until they get deep into the wilderness to make his move. His plan is to off the other members of the group, take Sarah hostage, and force her to guide him into Canada via the Washington back country.

Meanwhile, Stantin has teamed up with Sarah’s boyfriend Jonathan Knox (Berenger) and the two are tracking their movement. Of course, as things go in movies like this, Stantin is a fish out of water in such wilderness, Knox feels like he’s dragging dead weight, and the two barely get along.

I won’t say too much about the plot except that Shoot to Kill is a pursuit movie that ends with some classic cop flick chase and shootout scenes, and we don’t find out who the killer is until he actually makes his move and takes Sarah hostage (although if you know your 1980s bad guy actors you figure it out). Both Poitier and Berenger are good and do very well at playing two guys who don’t like one another; futhermore, Poitier handles some of the movie’s lighter bits with aplomb, doing great “straight man” takes and not feeling he has to be Danny Glover. Alley, who was hitting a career peak after Summer School and her first season or so of Cheers, is also great, fighting against her kidnapper the entire way.

Roger Spotiswoode, who directed the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies and has written and produced a number of other films, directs Shoot to Kill deftly, giving his principal actors plenty of material to work with and really taking advantage of the on-location shooting (the scenery is gorgeous). And while it’s not a perfect film, I’d say it’s two hours worth your time. Track it down if you can.

Watch or Skip?


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