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Film / High Stakes

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High Stakes is a 1986 Black Comedy in the style of a Noir detective story, shot on location in Vancouver, Canada.

The story is told by our hero, Bo Baker (played by Dave Foley in his film debut) - a gawky, endlessly optimistic day-dreamer who sees himself as the star in his very own Film Noir story. Abandoned by his parents, Bo is raised by his abusive uncle, who bitterly gives Bo a job at his news station. This is not out of nepotism, but merely so Uncle Bill can have somebody to kick around when he's not popping pills or drinking.

Bo sneaks into an illegal casino with a camera, hoping for the scoop that will lead to the stardom he experiences in his many fantasies. He gets caught and winds up dodging bullets from The Mafia. With leads to a hidden stash of Nazi Gold on the nearby Von Reich estate, Bo risks his life to find the story. He's aided by the Mafia Princess Terry and journalist Eric Roberts, who has recently gone missing.

The action is interspersed with Bo's Deliberately Monochrome Fantasy Sequences, in which he is the star ace reporter, with all the power, all the influence and all the know-how. Complete with the Private Eye Monologue, Fedora of Asskicking (well, a Homburg) and Badass Longcoat.

It is not an easy movie to find, given its common title, Foley himself seeing the movie as an Old Shame, and having not seen a full release since its VHS issue by the long-defunct Cinema Group. Even its sparse IMDB page mistakenly describes Bo working at his uncle's "detective agency", instead of news station.

High Stakes features the following Tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Bo's Evil Uncle Bill is horrible to Bo, and yet Bo loves him eternally. None of this loyalty is ever returned.
  • Accidental Pun:
    Bo: Damn! Shoot! [He kicks a cannon, which goes off.]
  • The Alcoholic: Uncle Bill, who is also clearly addicted to painkillers and tranquillisers as well.
  • The Alleged Car: Bo's denim-blue VW Bug, which spews white smoke on a regular basis. Counts as Stylistic Suck, because it somehow just looks cool.
    Bo: It's a good car. You get used to it. It grows on you.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Subverted by Terry. She starts out as the mistress of a gangster, and Bo assumes this is the type of guy she will always want. In the end though, she tells Bo that he is the most exciting man she's ever met. Justified - they did just escape after being Locked in the Dungeon with a Time Bomb and Hitler's personal diary.
  • Alliterative Name: Bo Baker.
  • Angry Guard Dog: Lots of them on the Von Reich estate.
  • Badass Longcoat: Bo sports one, fitting into his Film Noir Fantasy Sequences nicely.
  • Bad Liar: As Bo is sneaking about, clad in black with a balaklava, he is eyed suspiciously by a couple walking their dog.
    Bo: I've been skiing. No big deal. Just skiing.
  • Bathos:
    Bo: Dammit, she's dead again!
  • Battle Ballgown: Terry gets out of torture in one.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Bo attempts one by trying to casually walk past security into Valenta's casino. When they stop him, he acts outraged and exclaims he's important and shouldn't be treated this way. Then he says he has an important message for Valenta. Valenta comes out, and Bo, out of ideas, sings "Happy Birthday" before sinking to his knees and begging, "Please don't kill me."
  • The Door Slams You: In the dungeon, the giant, ornate Nazi door that leads to the treasure is chock with nasty Booby Traps, the first being the middle that swipes out. Luckily for Bo, he drops the key and is crouched on the ground when this happens.
  • Dramatic Shattering: Bo tries to sneak into Eric Roberts's apartment, but smashes through the skylight. Then proceeds to smash more and more as he stumbles through the apartment.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: After Bo's uncle loses the station to Reverend Willis, Bo gets very drunk. Obviously prompted by his Evil Uncle, who offers Bo some helpful advice:
    Uncle Bill: You know what the secret of life is? Pills. And martinis.
  • Fantasy Sequence: Bo likes to see himself as the star of his own Film Noir detetive story. His fantasies are as much fun for the audience as they are for Bo.
  • Film Noir: All of Bo's Fantasy Sequences.
  • Gilligan Cut: A few of these, especially at the beginning.
  • Groin Attack:
    Bo [narrating]: Luckily, I blocked her kick with my balls.
  • Hardboiled Detective: It's what Bo's dreams are all about...
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Terry. It's hard to pinpoint what side she's on for a long time.
  • Hope Spot: Uncle Bill finally invites Bo into the secret innermost core of the news station, an affair clandestine and shrouded in mystery. What will Bo be doing in the heart of the inner sanctum? Shining his uncle's shoes, naturally.
  • Just Following Orders: When Terry tells Bo she's working for Von Reich, Bo exclaims, "The man's a war criminal!" Terry replies with this trope, almost word for word.
  • Keet: Bo has such a quixotic zeal for life. It's also noteworthy that many of Dave Foley's roles have been Keets. Witness The Kids in the Hall, for instance.
  • The Klutz: Bo can admit this himself.
  • Kubrick Stare: Bo employs one a couple of times.
  • Laser-Guided Karma:
    Uncle Bill: My leg is broken and I'm in terrible pain.
    Bo: Well, you better stay here, then!
  • Latex Perfection: Eric Roberts wears a flawless mask to pass as Von Reich.
  • MacGuffin: A treasure chest of Nazi Gold, hidden in the bowels of the earth beneath the Von Reich estate.
  • The Mafia: Bo sneaks into Frank Valenta's illegal casino in the hopes of a good story. He ends up dodging bullets.
  • Magic Countdown: On a Time Bomb in the underground lair.
  • Male Gaze: While Bo is filming the craps table at Frank Valenta's illegal casino, he can't help but focus the shot on Terry's exposed cleavage, right as she happens to be bouncing on her toes in an excitable state...
  • Meaningful Name: Bo likes to see himself as the star of a Noir story - just like Humphrey Bogart.
  • Nazi Gold: What everybody's after - except, of course, for Bo, who is after what he hopes will be his star-making story.
  • Nepotism: Subverted - whilst Bo's unlce does give Bo a job at the station, he hates Bo and abuses him in every way imaginable (including shooting him with a crossbow). As aforementioned, Bo is endlessly loyal and grateful for the opportunity.
  • Nice Guy: Bo is as sweet as can be. All he wants is to achieve his dream of being an ace reporter, and enjoy his fantasies along the way. When it comes to the abuse his Evil Uncle dumps on him, Bo borders on being an Extreme Doormat. Something of Truth in Television, as many people do love family members even when they are abusive.
  • Older Than He Looks: Bo, which is to be expected, as he's played by Dave Foley.
  • Parental Abandonment: Bo's parents ditched him with his Uncle Bill as a baby.
  • Parking Problems: Bo's car runs down the hill. He chases it, latches onto the side and dives in the window to grab the brake. Further, he has 400+ parking tickets.
  • Pet the Dog: Subverted. When Uncle Bill loses the station to the Faith Healer Reverend Willis, Bo goes to comfort him. We expect Bill to say something nice, but instead he says what is quoted above under Drowning My Sorrows.
  • The Pollyanna: Bo has a way of focusing on the sunny side of things.
  • Power Fantasy: In a dark mood, Bo dreams of exacting his revenge on Dorian.
  • Preacher Man: Reverend Willis, who ends up usurping the station from Uncle Bill.
  • Suddenly Always Knew That: At the very end, we find out that Bo understands German.
  • Suicide as Comedy: When Bo is in jail, his uncle hands him a noose through the bars.
    Uncle Bill: Jail can be tough. I want you to have this.
    Bo: Thank you, sir...