Don't call him Mr. Tibbs, call him G-man Warren Stantin. After a 10-year intermission, Sidney Poitier returns to the screen in a tolerable new cop thriller, "Shoot to Kill," and the timeless sexagenarian is spry in a younger man's role. As the city-bred Fed, Poitier is obliged to hang from cliffs, shinny up crevices and spend the night in an igloo in his quest for justice.
The intrepid Stantin tracks a kidnaper-murderer named Steve (Clancy Brown) from the city streets to the steeps of the Pacific Northwest. There Steve has disguised himself as a fisherman and is bound for Canada with a party of anglers and Sarah (Kirstie Alley), their fetching guide. Sarah's boyfriend Jonathan Knox (Tom Berenger) becomes Stantin's unwilling trailblazer, afraid the tenderfoot flatfoot will slow him down in his race to save Sarah. As usual with these odd-couple action dramas, the uneasy allies prove themselves manly men under arduous circumstances. And as usual, male bonding ensues. It's "Stakeout" in the woods.
Poitier is no stranger to the let's-be-buddies theme -- he did it in "The Defiant Ones," and even "In the Heat of the Night." But in the past, there was always the race barrier to overcome. Here he's cast without regard to color, and freed of that, he seems to be just having fun in a charming comic performance.
Berenger, as Knox, is doing a type-A Grizzly Adams -- nagging Stantin, sniffing moss for signs of Steve, and catching giant rodents for dinner. He is an actor of great energy and intensity, and clearly this is not a stretch for him.
The actors' convivial screen rivalry, and Poitier's surprising flair for banana-peel comedy, carry this meandering, overextended movie. The leisurely pace gives you time to notice that the plot has more holes than a Swiss cheese on a mouse ranch. And it doesn't help that Steve looks like Eddie Haskell.
Shoot to Kill, playing at area theaters, is rated R and contains violence.