How to Sink a Career in Six Easy Steps: A Tribute to the Films of Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham (part 1 of 8)

SUMMARY: Burt Reynolds had it all. Fame, fortune, good looks, a decent career. And then, he made more than two movies with Hal Needham.

Welcome to this retrospective of every movie Burt Reynolds made with director Hal Needham: Smokey and the Bandit, Hooper, Smokey and the Bandit Part II, The Cannonball Run, Stroker Ace, and Cannonball Run II, all starring Burt Reynolds, his ego, and pretty much every actor in Hollywood.

Given the sheer breadth of this article, I will not be recapping each movie in full. Partly because it would take too long, but mainly because I treasure my sanity.

Also, these films don’t really lend themselves to drawn out recaps, as there are only so many ways to describe nonexistent plotlines, endless stunts, egotistical actors, and shamelessly gratuitous cameos. Instead, this will be more of a high-level overview of Burt Reynolds in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, and his seemingly pathologically stupid career choices.

Back in the ‘70s, there were two top dogs at the box office: Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds. Both were tall and charismatic, with winning screen personas and a knack for getting their fans to watch just about anything starring them, regardless of quality.

While Clint managed to have a wildly successful acting and directing career that still thrives to this day, Burt has not been quite so lucky. A series of bad decisions and personal problems have made the man an unfortunate afterthought.

Burt first made waves in the early ‘70s with Deliverance, and hits such as The Longest Yard made him a cinematic icon. In 1973, he made White Lightning, his first “good ol’ boy car chase” picture. It was a pretty damn good flick, and the sequel, which Reynolds directed, followed three years later. The following year, he teamed with stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham for Smokey and the Bandit.

A smash hit, they teamed up the next year for Hooper… and then the wheels began to fall off. A sequel to Smokey and the Bandit was a success for them (despite being terrible), as was The Cannonball Run, but the duo hit a brick wall in 1983 with Stroker Ace. An attempt to regain the magic came in 1984 with Cannonball Run II, but by then the damage was done. Reynolds would appear in City Heat with Clint Eastwood later that year, and while I personally dig the movie, pretty much nobody else does. I think even Clint isn’t too wild about it.

Since then, Burt Reynolds has had middling success, with only Boogie Nights reminding people that the man can actually act. Of course, he fired his agent after that movie, and has done pretty much nothing else of note since. Unless you consider working for Uwe Boll to be noteworthy, in which case you’re a rather odd person. Not bad, necessarily, just odd.

The six movies Burt did with Hal Needham are interesting to look at simply as a way of charting the decline of a major movie star’s popularity. Lord knows they’re not good for much else. The discs make nice Frisbees though, and if you’re a cheap bastard, the cases are more than adequate coasters.

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Ed Harris

A fan of less than great cinema since childhood, Ed divides his time between writing scripts, working an actual paying job and subjecting himself willingly to some of the worst films society has produced.

Multi-Part Article: How to Sink a Career in Six Easy Steps: A Tribute to the Films of Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham

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