Turkey Shoot

Film

Shoot to Kill

Screenplay by Harv Zimmel, Michael

Burton and Daniel Petrie Jr.

Directed by Roger Spottiswoode

At the USA Cinema 57

IN the golden age of Hollywood, or so the story goes, the studios used to come up with the title first, and then write the script later--the idea being that it's the title that catches the pros-time they get to the plotline they've already laid their money down.

We live in more sophisticated times now, or so it would be nice to think. It takes more than just a flashy title to bring the clients in; a good ad campaign needs some flashy clips, too, and some big-budget names if the producers can afford it. Once you've got those things--well, then you're ready to call the writers.

Unfortunately the writers for Shoot to Kill didn't measure up to the high caliber of the film's advertising and casting personnel. The lucky three to get screenplay credits are Harv Zimmel, Michael Burton and Daniel Petrie Jr.; there's no point in changing their names, since they aren't innocent. It's strange that the more writers a movie has, the lamer the script inevitably is.

The story that this trio have concocted for us seems like a typical Hollywood melange of free association, plagiarism, and stupidity. Sidney Poitier plays Warren Stantin, an FBI agent (you can tell because of the huge letters "FBI" on his windbreaker) who is tracking a fiendish kidnapper from the streets of San Francisco to the Great White North of Canada.

Sounds easy? No, no, no, because the devilish evildoer has chosen to foil his pursuers by following an unusual plan of action: he has gone on a fishing expedition into the mountains, a trip led by Kirstie Alley of Cheers.

This reviewer won't ruin what little suspense there is in this movie by revealing whether Kirstie is taken hostage by the kidnapper, and whether this enrages her boyfriend Tom Berenger and causes him to join Poitier in tracking down the criminal, and whether the fugitive makes it over the border to Canada, and whether it turns out to really make any difference when he does, but suffice it to say that every plot twist is strikingly implausible and obviously invented only to justify the next improbable twist.

IT'S hard to imagine how a fine set of actors like Poitier, Berenger, and Alley could read a script like Shoot to Kill's and still want to sign on--especially Poitier, who as a returnee to film after an absence of more than a decade ought to have chosen his debut project with a little more care. Sadly, the performances these three give do little to save the film.

Both Berenger and Poitier have screen presences which generate their power more from a natural dignity than from affability or audience sympathy--more like Nicholson than William Hurt, for example. But in a dog like Shoot to Kill, an actor needs to be liked more than respected; it's impossible to keep a regal bearing in a circus of fools. The writers seemed to have recognized this problem, but their attempts at humanizing humor fall far short. In one scene for example, Poitier and Berenger are confronted by a bear, do a "Yikes!" take, and run away. Not even the Keystone Kops could have pulled it off.

There is a certain type of film which invites you to pick apart the plot holes; Shoot to Kill is one of them. If you're the kind of viewer who likes to spend the half hour after coming out of a movie wondering, "Wait a minute, why the hell did the killer spend the first half of the movie trying to escape into Canada, since the FBI followed him right over the border?" then you should go see this movie. If not, don't.