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The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Burt Reynolds

12.21.2014

Last week, we took a look at the career of virtuoso character actor John Goodman, one of the most consistently praised actors of his generation. This week’s subject is more controversial,

Burt Reynolds
 

Burt Reynolds. If there’s ever been a better example of how fickle Hollywood, and by extension audiences, can be I haven’t heard of it. For about a decade, Reynolds was the biggest star in the world. He was the fella every guy wanted to be and every lady wanted to be with. A good ol’ boy with rakish charm and an edge, Reynolds was just as adept at drama as he was comedy and action, but if he had a failing it’s that he got caught up in the Hollywood star-machine. He was everywhere, but typecasting hit him hard, and Reynolds seems to have gotten complacent at some point, appearing in too many dumb car movies (THE CANNONBALL RUN films are especially bad), and somewhere along the way audiences had enough.

It’s puzzling to see just how quickly his career went down the tubes. In 1982, he had two hit movies in theaters (BEST FRIENDS & THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS) but then, in ’83, he made a huge mistake turning down a part in TERMS OF ENDEARMENT to do the racing comedy STOKER ACE. In hindsight it’s easy to point that out as a bad move, but in ’83 it must have seemed like a safe bet, as STOKER ACE was exactly the kind of movie that he was famous for, coming from regular director Hal Needham (who did the SMOKEY & THE BANDIT movies, HOOPER, and THE CANNONBALL RUN). Turns out, it was all too familiar and audiences stayed away in droves. After that, he never had another real box-office hit. An injury sustained on the set of his Clint Eastwood buddy-flick CITY HEAT, made things even worse as he was taken out of commission for about eighteen months, and from there his career never really recovered, although he did find some measure of success on the small screen with EVENING SHADE.

In the mid-nineties, Reynolds seemed poised for a major comeback, with him being nominated for an Oscar with BOOGIE NIGHTS, but this didn’t really pan out. Still, Reynolds leaves behind a legacy of great work, with him having made at least half a dozen great movies, and not being above poking a little fun at himself too (see his great episode of ARCHER). Truly, Burt is a man’s man and one of a kind.

His Best Film
 

BOOGIE NIGHTS is one of my all-time favorite movies. It has one of the best ensemble casts ever assembled, but arguably Burt is the best of the bunch playing paternal porn director Jack Horner. When you think of a porno guru, you don’t think of a guy like Reynolds, and the low-key performance really should have won him the Oscar. It’s really too bad that Reynolds himself seems to have no appreciation for the film, with him having famously feuded with director Paul Thomas Anderson. Reynolds and Anderson could done a lot together, and it’s tempting to imagine what Reynolds could have done with the Philip Baker Hall role in MAGNOLIA, which would have been an ideal fit. Oh well. Otherwise, DELIVERANCE is probably his second best film, although his performance in SHARKY’S MACHINE is also pretty damn good (as is his inspired direction).

His Most Overrated Film

Part of me wishes Reynolds had never made SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT. While it was a major hit in 1977 (second only to STAR WARS and out grossing CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND) this is a bit of a chore to sit through, and the sequels are really bad. Reynolds dials up the charm big time (opposite real-life love Sally Field), and sure, it works but in a way it was the beginning of the end for Reynolds. I’ll take GATOR over SMOKEY & THE BANDIT any day. Still, Jackie Gleason is funny.

His Most Underrated Film
 

The year after SMOKEY, Reynolds and Hal Needham teamed up for a much-better movie called HOOPER. A pet project for former stuntman Hal Needham, HOOPER is a surprisingly mature film for the two, and is packed to the gills with action in the form of impressive stunts (or as they’re called here – gags).

Another Reynolds movie I love is STICK. The history behind this one is interesting. Originally filmed before his CITY HEAT accident, STICK, based on the Elmore Leonard novel, was meant to be a change of pace for Reynolds, but after bad test screenings he was forced to reshoot a lot of it. Making matters a lot worse was that Reynolds, after his accident, had lost a ton of weight and looked it. As such, his appearance constantly changes throughout. Even weirder is that Reynolds seems to be sporting a thicker hairpiece in the reshot parts, most of which are big action scenes. The end result is a bit of a mess, but it's still a throughly entertaining movie with an old-school eighties synth soundtrack and a great supporting performance by George Segal. While I'd love to see Reynolds' original cut, the added action sequences are all really good (Reynolds was actually a great director) with an especially memorable one featuring the henchman, played by stuntman Dar Robinson, taking a fall from a hotel balcony while shooting his gun on the way down. I'd love to see this one get a good Blu-ray release.

His Most Memorable Scene

As I wrote earlier, Reynolds was never better than in BOOGIE NIGHTS, and probably the best piece of acting in the movie is when Horner, is forced to defend his talent, and his whole industry, against flesh peddler Floyd Gondolli, who wants Jack to convert to videotape.

His Top 5 Films


5. STICK
4. SHARKY’S MACHINE
3. THE LONGEST YARD ('74 version)
2. DELIVERANCE
1. BOOGIE NIGHTS

Up Next

Reynolds hasn't been in the best of health lately, but two of his better vehicles, HOOPER and SHARKY'S MACHINE, are both getting the Blu-ray treatment by Warner Bros sometime in April. Hopefully some day people will reappraise Reynolds, as he's someone I've always felt was due a lot more respect.

Source: JoBlo.com

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