Unlawful Entry: The Best Kurt Russell Movie You Never Saw?

Connie Queline

Unlawful Entry: The Best Kurt Russell Movie You Never Saw?

1992’s Unlawful Entry is an excellent little thriller no one discusses these days, despite starring the great Kurt Russell and Ray Liotta.

The 1990s are regularly regarded as the era of the high-concept thriller. In the wake of eighties smashes like Jagged Edge and Fatal Attraction, audiences tended to flock to these kinds of movies, although it’s worth noting they quickly spun off into two different mini-genres. There was the erotic thriller genre, whose queen was definitely Sharon Stone, with movies like Basic Instinct and Sliver, but there was also the so-called yuppie thriller. 

These movies often centred around upwardly mobile middle-class couples who wind up in the crosshairs of a maniac who wants to dismantle their lives. Fatal Attraction was arguably the first of these. Still, many more would follow, including Pacific Heights, which featured Michael Keaton in a memorably evil role, Bad Influence (with Rob Lowe), Internal Affairs (which revitalized Richard Gere’s career), Malice, and the great Single White Female. But, of the genre, one of the most effective was 1992’s Unlawful Entry, starring Kurt Russell, Madeleine Stowe, and the late Ray Liotta. It was recently re-released on Blu-ray by Shout Factory and is worth revisiting. 

Unlawful Entry is directed by Jonathan Kaplan, who also made The Accused (which won Jodie Foster an Oscar) and stars Kurt Russell and Madeleine Stowe as a seemingly well-to-do L.A. couple whose existence is rocked when they fall prey to a home invasion. While they emerge unscathed, they become paranoid about their security, with an initially helpful cop played by Ray Lotta offering to act as a sounding board for their paranoia. Initially seeming like a swell guy, he turns out to be a madman who becomes obsessed with Stowe. To be with his dream woman, he becomes bent on demolishing Russell’s life piece by piece so he can seamlessly step into his shoes.

Unlawful Entry came along at the height of Kurt Russell’s popularity while Liotta was coming off of Goodfellas. Stowe was also riding high after sending pulses pounding in Revenge and The Last The Mohicans. Unlawful Entry was a big success for 20th Century Fox, grossing $57 million domestically and becoming a big video hit and cable TV staple. However, in recent years, Unlawful Entry, like many films of this genre, has slunk into obscurity. It’s never really discussed when looking over Kurt Russell’s filmography, but it holds up quite well. 

He plays against type as a regular guy/quasi-yuppie, which was different as he always played blue collar guys, like in The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China or even Overboard. Watching him sport slick double-breasted suits while doing deals on old cell phones is almost bizarre. It’s just not how we think of him, but he aces the role, even if it seems like it was maybe written for someone like Kevin Costner or Dennis Quaid. He was coming into his own as an action star then, but he still seemed keen to stretch. Let’s not forget that he also starred as Captain Ron later that year. 

Meanwhile, Madeleine Stowe plays to type as the warm-hearted dream wife. But, lest you think her role is two-dimensional, it’s also worth noting that she always had something going on behind the eyes that suggested a resilience few of her contemporaries had. This arguably made her more modern in that aspect. She would eventually get to play a movie star lead role a few years later in the underrated feminist western Bad Girls.  

As good as Russell and Stowe are, the real scene-stealer in Unlawful Entry is undoubtedly Ray Liotta as the madman cop who makes their lives a living hell. The interesting thing about Liotta back then was that he looked like a leading man but always gave the impression of having a short fuse. He’s charming as the initially helpful cop, only to go totally bonkers once his character is unmasked as a psycho. There’s a scene where he picks up a prostitute about midway through the film that’s Liotta at his unhinged best. But, rather than elevate him, I think, if anything, Unlawful Entry may have hurt his career as he was then forever typecast as a psycho. He would try to be an action hero in the awesome No Escape, but no one really saw it (at the time). 

Unlawful Entry is also unique for its era, as it was one of the first movies of its kind to attempt to examine the relationships between cops and civilians in a critical way, which was unusual as this was the era of the super cop action flick. Unlawful Entry was quasi remade (or ripped off depending on who you ask) many years later with the Samuel L. Jackson film Lakeview Terrace. No one really saw that one, which is just as well. Unlawful Entry is dated in a few ways, but it holds up well thanks to the taut director and ace performances. If you’re in the mood for a slick, high-concept thriller (a genre that’s all but died in recent years), I highly recommend giving it a shot.

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