Stick 1985 ***


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.

Out of Sight 1998 ****

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Scott Frank adapts Elmore Leonard’s book for this Steven Soderberg thriller, featuring a typically confident performance from George Clooney and a surprisingly good one from Jennifer Lopez, cast as Karen Sisco, an unlikely US Marshall. She’s on the tail of Jack Foley (Clooney) a bank-robber who breaks out of jail; a scene in which they share a cramped intimacy in the trunk of a car cements their attraction. The tough guy stuff is compellingly handled, with Michael Keaton reprising his Jackie Brown role, but it’s the unusual romantic angle that makes Out Of Sight work; Lopez strikes sparks in a role originally intended for Sandra Bullock.

Jackie Brown 1997 ****


Those who decry Quentin Tarantino’s later work for its showmanship and pop-cultural trappings should take a look back to the steely control of Jackie Brown, with Pam Grier as the hostess who gets mixes up with crime in an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel. Robert Forester is the cop who falls for brown, and Robert de Niro, Chris Tucker and Bridget Fonda all contribute memorably in minor roles. Tarantino uses skillful edits and a supercool selection of music, but everything is tightly reigned in on Jackie Brown’s situation so much so that’s it’s more of a drama than a thriller, with characters who breathe, charm and kill when they have to.