Heat 1986 ***

heat

Any personal investigation into the decline and fall of Burt Reynolds would have to include Heat, a 1986 film which eared the star a cool $2 million. Reynolds had decided, perhaps a half dozen films too late, that the ‘man with a car’ trope had been overdone, and was looking for more mature roles. Both Stick and Heat demonstrate that his stardom was considerable enough to bring in a team of top talent; William Goldman adapts his own novel here, while super-producer Elliot Kastner (Where Eagles Dare, The Long Goodbye, Angel Heart) produces. The opening sequence is pretty striking with Nick Escalante (Reynolds) hitting on a woman in a bar, only to be badly beaten by her wimpy husband. It’s soon revealed that this is a set up job, and that Escalante is being paid to make the husband look good. Establishing that our central character is happy to debase himself for cash is a strange way to start, and things get odder when Nick dons a ridiculously garish pimp outfit to avenge a woman Holly (Karen Young) who has fallen foul of a local crime boss DeMarco (Neill Barry). Nick pulls soon lamentable slow-mo kung fu moves and enables Holly to humiliate DeMarco by taking a knife to his genetalia. A side-plot involves Nick working as a bodyguard/chaperone to a gauche young man (Peter McNichol), although given how sleazy the whole enterprise is, it’s hard to imagine Nick’s influence being a positive one, and the way the stories are blended at the climax is crude to say the least. Heat went through several directors, with Dick Richards allegedly quitting after Reynolds punched him in the face. Given the atrocious fight-scenes here, a punch from Reynolds wouldn’t have much impact; a scene where he karate-kicks a light-bulb out if its socket is utterly farcical. And Nick’s habit of carrying his jacking on his shoulder by one finger makes him look like a male-model. And yet…Goldman was one of the Hollywood greats, and there’s some interesting scenes, notably a long meditation on gambling that transfers well to the screen. And even the confrontations between Nick and DeMarco have some latent menace; this is a small-scale, nasty but bluntly effective crime story, quite different from Goldman’s other work, but with evidence of his unique style. With support from Howard Hesseman, Heat isn’t exactly a classic, and was probably worth remaking as Wild Card with Jason Stratham, but there are treasures amongst the ruins for fans of Goldman’s gift for character.

Advertisements

Stick 1985 ***

burt

For a man who turned down the roles of Han Solo, James Bond and Terms of Endearment, Burt Reynolds sure could pick a loser, but he made periodic attempts to reclaim his status as a box-office draw. Stick should have been a back-to-basics hit, with a good Elmore Leonard script adapted from his own novel, plus strong support for Candice Bergen, Charles During and George Segal. Reynolds directs himself, and that’s no bad thing either; his Sharkey’s Machine was one of the best vehicles for his charm, and he even adopts a sleeveless blouson much like the one he had in Deliverance here. The result opened at number one at the American box-office, one of the last Reynolds films to do so; it’s not great, but it’s better than its reputation suggests.

Stick (Reynolds) gets out of jail, and teams up with an old friend for a drug deal that goes south. Stick needs somewhere to hide, and takes a job working for a millionaire (Segal) and his wife (Bergen), while plotting revenge on the cartel boss who wronged him. Stick climaxes with a dull burst of machine gun action that reeks of studio interference, and which both Reynolds and Leonard disowned. But there’s some smart dialogue here, plus some strong stunt-work, Durning and Segal both do nice character turns, and Reynolds isn’t awful the way most of his 80’s films find him. He plays slow and laconic; perhaps audiences couldn’t get over the smarmy cameos, fourth-wall breaking grins and other affectations Reynolds had previously self-sabotaged himself with, but his Stick goes through the gears effectively enough.

The Cannonball Run 1 and 2 1981, 1984 ***

cannonball

Of course, purists don’t count 1989’s Speed Zone as part of the franchise; only the two Hal Needham films really belong to the world of the cannonballer. Following on from the mid 1970’s cross-country car-chase boom that included Cannonball, Carquake, Grand Theft Auto, The Gumball Rally and more, The Cannonball Run films essentially lifted Burt Reynolds and his good ol’ boy character from the Smokey and the Bandit films and put him amongst a packed, all-star cast for various motorised shenanigans. There’s actually precious little in the way of stunts or action, and the key members of the cast don’t have much to do; Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr waltz around the edges looking frail and unenthused, and the mugging comedy is more likely to come from old-stagers like Charles Nelson Reilly or Jack Elam as it was from top-billed Roger Moore or Frank Sinatra. The latter’s appearance in Cannonball Run II, which features no actual interaction with cast members and appears to have been shot in a different time-zone, is something of a low-point, and the way the cameos are shoe-horned into both films disrupts any narrative tension. But the Cannonball Run films are more interesting in 2019 as a repository of ancient gags and comic turns, from Don Knotts and Tim Conway to Jim Nabors and Doug McClure, The dated jokes about middle-Eastern politics via Jamie Farr’s The Sheik is particularly groan-worthy, but the unfunny antics of Dom DeLuise are a crash-crash all by themselves; the twist is that his rapport with Reynolds, with both seeming to be in a state of severe intoxication, features extensively in the credits/bloopers at the end of the film, and generates more laughs than the scripted material could in a million years.

White Lightning/ Gator 1973/76 ***

images-3

Burt Reynolds is best remembered for two car-chase franchises, Smokey and The Bandit and The Cannonball Run; his best was the two films he made as hard-lining Gator McCluskey. In White Lightning, originally to be directed by Steven Spielberg, Gator unwillingly joins forces with federal agents investigating a moonshine ring in the Deep South, with Ned Beatty ideal as the lawman. Joseph Sargent’s film is a solid thriller, building up to an impressive car chase and a very neat ending that show’s Gator’s ingenious escape and almost cost the life of the stunt-driver (Hal Needham). The same character returned in 1976’s Gator, directed by Reynolds, and putting him up against sleazy politicians, with Lauren Hutton as a glamorous TV reporter who falls for Gator’s charms. Live and Let Die-style speedboat chases are added to the mix, and both films offer up plenty of entertainment without too much stunt-man bonhomie that weakened some of Reynolds’ later work.

http://www.vudu.com/movies/#!content/140751/Gator

Sharky’s Machine 1981 ***

images-1

Burt Reynolds’s good ole-boy charm had made him a hot enough property in the early eighties that he was allowed to direct himself in this violent thriller, which sees Reynolds play a quite different role to his Bandit/Cannonball run heroes. As narcotics cop Sharky, Reynolds has to deal with internal corruption while investigating a call-girl ring, in the process falling for high-class hooker Dominoe (Rachel Ward). Based on William Diehl’s novel and filmed on the meaner streets of Atlanta, this 1981 thriller features a great cast as the ‘machine’ with which Sharkey cleans up the streets; Brian Keith, Charles Durning and Bernie Casey, while Henry Silva is always a great villain to match up against. More violent and thoughtful than most Hollywood thrillers, Sharky’s Machine shows Reynolds at his best.