Picks and Pans Review: Shoot to Kill

updated 02/22/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/22/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

The first half of this movie is so exciting and tense that the rest of it pales in comparison. At the outset a psycho holds a San Francisco jewelry store owner's wife hostage in her own home. He tells FBI agent Sidney Poitier he's sending the maid out with a message. But as the maid gets in plain view of everyone, he puts a bullet right through her. After a clever escape, the killer heads for Canada with his ransom of diamonds. Just as he gets close to the border, the sight of a cop car sends him careening down a dirt road, where he murders (and takes the place of) the first of five men who are meeting to go on a high-country fishing trip. The killer's nasty habit of shooting people through the left eye, however, puts Poitier on his tail once again. To the script's, and director Roger (Under Fire) Spottis-woode's, credit, the audience still hasn't seen the killer's face at this point. So there's some fun in trying to guess which of the men on the outing is the killer as they and guide Kirstie (Cheers) Alley hike higher and higher into the wilderness. City man Poitier, meanwhile, teams up with mountain man Tom Berenger, Alley's partner and boyfriend, to track them down. Berenger thinks Poitier will only slow him down. "Ain't no elevators up there, mister," Berenger tells him. Poitier's huffing-and-puffing trek through the mountains in fact provides some comic relief. But there's ultimately too much of that good thing, and it only ends up detracting from the suspense. Then, once the killer's identity is disclosed, the movie becomes a predictable race to the finish. While Alley makes a ruggedly ravishing, reasonably believable mountain guide and Berenger looks the part too, the real highlight of this film is Poitier. It's great to see him back up on the big screen, with his sense of dignity and humor both clearly intact, after a 10-year absence during which his only movie work has been as a director (most notably, 1980's Stir Crazy). His return helps the film maintain a modest level of interest even while all around him the plot is losing its momentum. (R)

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