Burt Reynolds: A Reassessment

This post was a draft I found before this blog took a turn towards travel from movies so I finished it up and present it for your perusal.

I once was a big fan of Burt Reynolds.  Alright, don’t judge me too harshly before you hear me out because frankly, I wasn’t alone.  There was a world, not too long ago that saw fit to vote Mr. Reynolds the biggest male star in the world not once, not twice but five years in a row, from 1979 to 1984.  A former college football star who had a promising sports career sidelined by a knee injury, he turned to acting and never looked back.  While not a strong dramatic actor, he excelled at comedy and, 30 years ago at least, exuded a likeable quality that made women swoon (okay, that nude Cosmopolitan foldout in the mid-70’s might have helped) and gave men a tough yet sensitive and funny model (no pun intended).

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He was the original choice for Jack Nicholson’s character in both One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Terms Of Endearment, both which won Nicholson an Oscar and he was a first choice for the lead in my favourite movie, Die Hard (although it’s difficult for me to imagine Burt Reynold’s John Maclane).  Unfortunately he was later firmly ensconced in a long string of B movies and has the dubious distinction of having been nominated seven times for a Razzie Award in the last 20 years (but he only won twice!) but I think he deserves to be more than a punchline so I’d like to pick five seminal films that I feel best represent his Burtness.

Striptease

June 1996 Demi Moore Stars As Erin Grant In The Sexy Comedy Striptease And Burt Reynolds As Con

This movie is best known for exposing Demi Moore’s newest (at the time) attributes. Moore seems to be in a family drama while everyone else tries to be in a wacky sex comedy which makes this adaptation of Carl Hiaasen’s novel an uneven mess….except for the hilarious performance by Reynolds as horny congressman David Dilbeck. His natural comic abilities are definitely at the forefront in this one.

Boogie Nights

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In 1997 Paul Thomas Anderson was at the beginning of his directorial ascension that culminated in the Oscar favourites There Will Be Blood and The Master when he wrote and directed this comic drama about the ‘backstages’ of the porn industry. Mark Wahlberg gives a strong performance as the newcomer Dirk Diggler but it was Burt’s turn as director Jack Horner that put him back in the spotlight, earning him his only Oscar nomination with a performance that is alternately tough and sweet.

The End

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Time for some honesty…this is the first Burt movie I saw when it was first broadcast on TV back in 1979 and it is probably still my favourite. Burt directs and stars as a man in his prime who finds out he may (or may not) have 6 months to live. After a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to kill himself, he is institutionalized where he enlists the help of fellow inmate (and frequent co-star) Dom Deluise to help him finish the job. The supporting cast including Deluise, Robby Benson as a newbie priest and Norman Fell as his doctor with no bedside manner steal the show…that is until the final hilarious scene when Burt makes a deal with God (or does he?).

Sharky’s Machine

M8DSHMA EC001

Burt once again directs this adaptation of the William Diehl novel, a hard-edged thriller in which he is a demoted policeman trying to crack a prostitution ring. He begins to fall for one of the hookers (played by Rachel Ward) and when she appears to have been killed, all hell breaks loose.  Great cast and the best of his police thrillers.

Deliverance

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This is the one that put Burt on the map, a 1972 John Boorman classic that has city boys Jon Voight, Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty and Reynolds head into the Georgia wilderness for some weekend warrior hunting and antics untill they’re confronted by the locals who don’t take a shine to them. Although almost 45 years old and best remembered for Dueling Banjos, Deliverance still remains powerful and affecting and is probably Reynold’s best film. Highly recommended…but sometimes a difficult watch.

Now some will mention his most popular movies, Smokey and the Bandit and The Longest Yard and while good these ones didn’t make the impact the five I mentioned did so look up a couple (or all) of these and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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