"I take orders from the Octoboss."

Unlawful Entry

June 26, 1992

UNLAWFUL ENTRY is one of those big mainstream domestic suspense thrillers that you don’t see too many of in theaters these days but that were a staple in the ‘90s. This one is directed by Jonathan Kaplan, who they probly called “the director of THE ACCUSED” in the advertising, but to me he’ll always be the director of TRUCK TURNER. One of the greats! The screenplay is credited to Lewis Colick (THE DIRT BIKE KID), who shares story credit with George Putnam (who also had FATAL INSTINCT that year) & John Katchmer.

Kurt Russell (in his followup to BACKDRAFT) and Madeleine Stowe (REVENGE) star as Michael and Karen Carr, a Los Angeles couple who in a skillfully tense sequence discover an intruder (Kaplan regular Johnny Ray McGhee) climbing through the skylight into their enormous home one night. Michael threatens the man with a golf club and scuffles with him, but he holds a knife to Karen’s throat and manages to escape.

When they call the cops, officers Roy Cole (Roger E. Mosley, HIT MAN, THE MACK, McQ, LEADBELLY, THE JERICHO MILE) and Pete Davis (Ray Liotta, two years and two projects after GOODFELLAS) respond. I love the way Kaplan and d.p. Jamie Anderson (PIRANHA) zero in on Pete reacting to the story, immediately showing great concern and protectiveness for Karen, and managing to touch her when she almost steps on glass. He’s obviously got eyes on her, and the way Roy says, “Hey – I know what you’re thinking” as they’re leaving, you get the idea he’s done that sort of thing before.

But first he gets all buddy-buddy with Pete. He convinces them to get a security system and then he personally shows up to help install it. Knows the password and everything. Hmm.

And he tells Michael he should go on a ride along with him. Brings him out for a night of witnessing crazy shit. Michael even has to run out into the street and save a little boy from getting run over. At the end of the night Pete tells him he has a surprise – as you may guess, he figured out who broke into the house, tracks him down and thinks Michael will want to beat the shit out of him for revenge. “C’mon, what’re you waitin for? Let’s go,” he says when Michael doesn’t want to do it.

Michael is not the most likable protagonist, but at least he doesn’t fall for that “real man” bullshit. As far as he’s concerned that’s the end of the friendship with this maniac cop. Unfortunately Pete has already weaseled himself into a friendship with Karen. And he gets increasingly stalkery and manipulative with both of them, creepily appearing in their backyard while she’s swimming, or at the door with unsolicited groceries, or at a big event for prospective investors in a night club Michael is trying to open, where he appoints himself head of security.

He also gets Karen’s friend and fellow elementary school teacher Penny (Deborah Offner, STREETWALKIN’) on his side by doing a talk for her students, who she says “love cops.” This makes for an ironic transition from assaulting a prostitute ex-girlfriend (Ruby Salazar) and dumping her in a part of town she doesn’t know to telling the kids, “So, being a policeman is about helping people.”

As mentioned in many other reviews, this is the summer after the Rodney King verdict. So these movies were made not expecting the ultimate outcome, but knowing of the beating and how much it widened distrust of police in general and the LAPD in particular. When Michael tries to talk to another cop for help the guy doesn’t believe him and says, “You don’t even have a home video. These days everybody’s got a god damn home video.” Like he’s complaining. Oh, I’m sorry, did we put the police out by documenting their actual activities? Pardon us!

But Pete is probly not meant to represent all or most or many cops. Overall they’re not shown as very effective, but Pete seems like an aberration among them. It’s exciting when Michael goes to Roy and gets him to face that his partner is a lunatic, and then when Roy confronts Pete about his behavior. Does not turn out well for Roy, though. This is a thriller, after all. There’s gonna be a body count. And some planted guns and cocaine and stuff.

For the most part this seems like a thriller without the shitty values that some of them had at that time. At least if you read the drug addicted Black man invading their home as an illustration of what a guy like Michael would be most afraid of, and not of what the movie wants you to believe happens all the time. (When confronted, he’s more pathetic than scary.) But there’s one little touch at the end that I found kind of laughable. The Carrs have a long-haired cat named Tiny who doesn’t like Michael. They joke about him not being able to pick up Tiny, and Karen is impressed when Pete can. So at the end after (obviously) shooting Pete, Michael just casually picks up Tiny without a problem. As if the animal is acknowledging Michael’s alpha status now that he’s killed a man. Pretty funny macho bullshit. Similarly, the ending seems to be disproving Karen and both police officers’ contention that it was stupid for Michael to get a gun.I think they were obviously right, though. Would their lives be better if he’d had a gun at the beginning and killed that guy? Or had to decide whether to shoot while the guy had a knife on Karen? No, not at all.

It’s a well-constructed movie, with some really impressive camerawork, including a very complex opening helicopter shot and one attached to Russell’s face as he’s led to a jail cell (I believe there’s a similar shot in TRUCK TURNER). Obviously the villain’s performance is often the most important part of a movie like this (see also STEPFATHER II), and Liotta delivers. The character ultimately does things that he’s got to know are over the line (cancelling their credit cards, walking into the room and watching while they’re fucking), but Liotta is so good at seeming sincere that he might be completely delusional when he’s, for example, being forcefully told to leave the club and seems to think he can just kinda laugh it off and convince Michael he’s overreacting. He might really believe he’s the reasonable one at that point. Even when he casually drops the information that he drove by and noticed they were up at 3 a.m. and assumes they were having “one hell of a night.”

Unsurprisingly, watching this so soon after Liotta’s passing really drove home how much he’ll be missed. Not just in leads like this, but when he shows up in a supporting role like in MARRIAGE STORY or NO SUDDEN MOVE, or even something not that great like, say, STREET KINGS 2 or THE SON OF NO ONE. Man, you could always count on that guy being great no matter what it was. I didn’t expect him to be gone so soon.

There are a few smaller parts that caught my eye. Kaplan, being a Corman vet, gives Dick Miller a scene as an impound clerk. Robert Costanzo (DIE HARD 2) is a sleazy bail bondsman. Stuntman Bob Minor (also seen in ACES: IRON EAGLE III) is a detective. Andy Romano plays a police captain – he’d be seen as Admiral Bates in UNDER SIEGE later in the year. Djimon Hounsou in his second movie, five years before hitting it big in AMISTAD, has a bit part as one of two prisoners sitting on a bench in one scene. He’s just credited as “Djimon” at this point. He gets and the other prisoner (Jeffrey Beale) get a good moment just exchanging a look in response to something Michael says.

And I only spotted this because of the credits, but Sonny Carl Davis, star of the Austin indie classics THE WHOLE SHOOTIN’ MATCH and LAST NIGHT AT THE ALAMO, plays “Neighbor Jack” (one of the investors in the club, I believe).

UNLAWFUL ENTRY got good reviews and was a decent-sized hit, as could actually happen with this type of movie back then. It didn’t unseat BATMAN RETURNS when it opened, but it didn’t need to at its budget.

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15 Responses to “Unlawful Entry”

  1. I used to watch these type of “obsessed _____ invades boring suburban existence” movies all the time back in the nineties when they were unavoidable, but now this kind of plot just drives me up the wall. In order to make it work, screenwriters always have to stack the deck by making all of the supporting characters the stupidest, most naive and gullible dipshits who’ve ever somehow managed not to send all of their life’s savings to a series of Nigerian princes. As a deeply distrusting person, that just irritates me. It’s a lot more believable in this case where it’s a handsome blue-eyed cop who will all know could, would, and will get away with murder before anyone even suggests that he’s not a hero, but it’s still a plot engine that brings me no enjoyment anymore. All I do is fidget and yell at the screen.

  2. Glad to hear that the cat survives. These days Hollywood seems to hate cats to the point where all of them must die in their thrillers and horror movies and I have no idea what’s up with that.

    I was just wondering why I had never heard of that movie and the German title translates to FATAL DESIRE, which makes it sounds like one of those falling-in-love-with-a-psycho erotic thrillers.

  3. Two years later, THE RIVER WILD came out, another thriller with a “can the husband bond with the family pet?” subplot. Maybe it was something in the water.

  4. Man, you could always count on that guy being great no matter what it was. I didn’t expect him to be gone so soon.

    I once had this frat-dood stage actor roommate, and he and his frat-dood stage actor buddies had this thing where they’d describe an overwrought performance as being “Ray”, as in Liotta, as in “Man, that guy was being very Ray last night and yelling every other line. Maybe he should switch to decaf” I mostly ignored them until one night they came back to the apartment after seeing Copland and were mocking every second of screen time Liotta had in great detail. Finally, one of them turned to me and asked if I witnessed his hilariously over-the-top performance.

    “Well, he was playing a coked-out scumbag, I thought it was apt”
    “Yeah, but you can establish that without being so overly intense”
    “You must have found it entertaining. I mean, that’s all you’ve been talking about for the past twenty minutes”
    “Maybe it was a little too entertaining, considering. I can’t believe the director let him do that”
    “Well, seeing that he had two of the all-time-great screen performances with Ray Sinclair and Henry Hill within three years of each other, maybe the director figured he knew what the fuck he was doing”

    They never invited me to cut-up with them again…

    PS Madeleine Stowe is so hot it kind of makes me crazy. I mean, she was a guest programmer on TCM like three years ago and she’s STILL incredibly hot

  5. jojo, I just read on IMDb that Kurt Russell and Madeline Stowe refused to use body doubles for their sex scene and my first thought was: “Hell yeah, if you have the chance to have make-believe sex with Stowe and/or Russell, you take that chance, even if the whole world will be watching!”

  6. It never stops blowing my mind that Madeleine Stowe is married to Brian Benben. There’s punching above your weight class and then there’s a mouse casually knocking out an elephant with one blow. Guy’s like the patron saint of my tribe of short, not inordinately handsome smartasses.

  7. It never stops blowing my mind that Madeleine Stowe is married to Brian Benben

    This is exactly the reason I never look up personal information about any famous people. Because when I read things like that, suddenly nothing makes any sense anymore.

    Down becomes up, in becomes out…

  8. They’ve been married since 1982, before either of them were famous, so chalk it up to getting in on the ground floor and not letting go.

  9. I remember this movie distinctly and, yes, this was such a 90s thing. (This sits on the same shelf with Basic Instinct, Hand That Rocks The Cradle, Sleeping With The Enemy and Single White Female in carousel of psychos genre.)

    I never saw anyone pick up on this, but did they make Kurt Russell up to look a little bit like Ray Liotta on purpose? I remember being startled by Russel’s suddenly-black hair in this movie—he’d never looked like that before and I could never figure any reason for it except that it blurred his appearance a little bit with Liotta’s, leaning into the wife character’s obvious, divided attraction to both men.

    On another note, I was 19 when this came out and kind of going through a back-to-square-one phase in terms of figuring out writing and subtext and what was the whole point of symbolism—and if there was a point to symbolism, when was it worthwhile and when was it a circle jerk? And despite being very unsure of myself at the time and feeling less sophisticated than my professors and classmates, I recall figuring out instantly that the symbolism of the two men vying for the affections of the woman’s “pussy” was so egregiously on the nose as to be a categorical fail.

    Liotta was really good in this, though. Nothing ever topped his work in Goodfellas, but he was one of the best, creepy, cringe-inducing psychos of the early 90s.

  10. In defense of Brian Benben, the guy is supposed to be a pretty good dude. Salma Hayek did an episode of his Dream On series for HBO and, when she was interviewed after hitting it big in the movies, really credited Benben with helping her out and giving her good advice & recommendations.

    Plus, he was in I COME IN PEACE. I mean, who wouldn’t stay married to “Special Agent Arwood Smith?”

  11. The way the story portrays Michael and Karen as rather cold and shallow people makes me believe that at some point the screenplay was about yuppies that faces some harsh realities. But I can’t really tell if it’s about a “the violence that lies in all of us” or “where’s your pacifism now, you bleeding heart liberal” kind of thing. It could also just be down to Russell and Stowe being “cold” actors. And how good is Jonathan Kaplan?! I knew him mostly from TRUCK TURNER, WHITE LINE FEVER and BAD GIRLS. But after finally watching MR. BILLION, a Terence Hill movie I’ve always avoided because of the bad press it got, I realized that this director is so good that he managed to make an exciting action thriller without the usual slapstick and fistikuffs from the Italian megastar. Too bad nobody noticed.

    I agree with Prego, the “pussy” thing was too on the nose.

  12. Not among the best of the ______ From Hell genre but it’s hard to top Cradle and Female. I kinda like Consenting Adults too. But this is very prescient about how much a cop could fuck with you if that’s his prerogative.

  13. Stowe and Benben met on the set of the movie GANGSTER WARS/TV series THE GANGSTER CHRONICLES, where they played wife and husband.

  14. Man that really was a period where these movies were just taken off an assembly line and put out wasn’t there? You’d be lucky to find something like this on streaming these days. Though they really have tried to take it back theatrically a couple of times these last 2 decades.

    Doesn’t hit the same way as the late 80s and early 90s though. That freshness is gone. SINGLE WHITE FEMALE would probably just be a Lifetime movie of the week now. I definitely like to think THE STEPFATHER and even THE HITCHER to a lesser extent had something to with that. But realistically it was probably FATAL ATTRACTION. I remember seeing THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE in theaters and it was around that same time. It’s amazing how many great actors made their bones off this subgenre when you think about it.

  15. Leave Benben alone ha ha ha. Dream On still holds up extremely well and he was Dolph’s best onscreen pal until Brandon Lee.

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