Looks like Emilio Estevez has discovered Tastykakes. The former Brat-packer turns Brat-porker for his first adult role, here opposite Richard Dreyfuss in "Stakeout," a diverting cops-comedy-cum-action-romance. Meanwhile the newly trimmed-down Dreyfuss turns the tables on the teen throb to become the love-making lead.
They do make an improbable squad-car odd couple -- both short, both white, both male, both human. But as with Hill and Renko, Cagney and Lacey, Robocop and Lewis, the clashing character traits eventually emerge and the fussing and feuding and friendly gibing begins. Get two cops, and you've got yourself a movie.
Estevez and Dreyfuss are likable and low-key, a pair of mellow, middle-class Seattle detectives who grow on you once you've gotten over the incongruous casting. With his portly middle and toothbrush mustache, Estevez looks like a Wayne Newton impersonator punching out punks on the Seattle docks. Through the first several scenes, you keep expecting him to break into a chorus of "Danke Schoen." He's never believable, but he certainly is lovable as the married, mother hen Bill who fusses over his single, unstable partner Chris. All they really have in common is the lip fuzz.
Though he's better suited to his salesmen roles in "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" and "Tin Men," Dreyfuss easily adapts to carrying a badge. He's clumsy when it comes to the requisite action-packed shoot-outs, but comedy and a cuddlesome love affair are the movie's main meat. And Dreyfuss is adept at playing the put-upon screw-up Chris, who gets the girl -- Madeleine Stowe, in her second feature film, as the seductive subject of the titular stakeout.
She plays Maria, the former girlfriend of a psychotic cop-killer, Stick (movie-stealing Aidan Quinn), who breaks out of prison in a violent opening sequence. This curiously graphic introduction contrasts the villain's cruel cool with Chris and Bill's Keystone caper in a Seattle tuna factory. After losing that fish fight, the bumblers are reassigned to an FBI-run, overnight stakeout in a ramshackle room opposite Maria's house, where the creepy escaped con is expected to turn up.
The partners pass the time with trivia games and family-sized chicken buckets. Then Maria comes home, a dark, vivacious Irish American Latino who turns the Seattle sleuths into a pair of Peeping Toms. Soon smitten by the object of his surveillance, Chris uses improper procedures to meet Maria, setting the stage for the "Rear Window" romantic farce that sparks the movie. "Did we practice safe sex?" asks the jealous Bill, who has used the binoculars to spy on Chris' rendezvous with Maria. Bill is all the more wounded, since Chris had promised to come back with the Dunkin' Donuts.
John Badham, who has directed such action blasts as "Blue Thunder" and "WarGames," is reunited with Dreyfuss, who had the lead in Badham's adaptation of "Whose Life Is It, Anyway?" Despite his bent for hardware movies, Badham has a flair for the more intimate, sweeter moments. But he never really blends them smoothly, distracted at times by Quinn's compelling performance and the thrill of the chase scenes. Sometimes "Stakeout" seems like two movies.
But it is still a monster step up for screenwriter Jim Kouf, who with his partner David Greenwalt has penned some of the worst drivel in the history of film -- "Class," "Secret Admirer" and "American Dreamer." The difference this time is that Kouf is writing solo, as well as producing this genial vehicle, which has less snap and pop savvy than we've come to expect from other comedies from Touchstone, Disney's adult division. Nevertheless, you might want to stake out a theater near you.
Stakeout, rated R, is at area theaters and contains profanity, nudity and violence.