Apr 27, 2018
How to Sink a Career in Six Easy Steps: A Tribute to the Films of Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham (part 2 of 8)
Stunts galore, Sally Field and more: Hooper (1978)
With the success of Smokey and the Bandit, it was only natural for Reynolds and Needham to team up again. This time, the movie would be a loving tribute to stunt performers. It’s an interesting blend of outrageous stunts and human comedy, and while it wasn’t as big of a success as the previous film, it’s definitely worth a look.
Burt plays ace stuntman Sonny Hooper, who feels time catching up with him. The film basically is a slice of his life and his relationships with girlfriend Sally Field, an egotistical director played by Robert Klein, a rival stuntman played by Jan-Michael Vincent, and other assorted supporting players. In other words, it’s what the ideal Burt Reynolds movie was before he got stuck doing crappy car chase movies.
One of the reasons the film works is that while it’s a comedy with a ton of stunts in it, it doesn’t make the mistake of thinking that the stunts themselves are funny on their own. You know, like the next four films Reynolds would do with Hal Needham.
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Once again, I have to marvel at how likable and charming Sally Field is here as Hooper’s girlfriend Gwen, and yet in Mrs. Doubtfire and Forrest Gump she had me going for the fast forward button like the fastest draw in the west. I don’t know if it was the Oscar wins or what, but talk about losing your curveball! Come to think of it, the same can be said for Burt Reynolds, too.
The rest of the cast is fun too, as it features Brian Keith as Gwen’s stuntman father, and Adam West as the actor that Hooper is doubling.
The most interesting casting bit about this movie is James Best as Hooper’s best friend. Best would later win the role of Rosco P. Coltrane in The Dukes of Hazzard based on his work here.
Robert Klein is actually quite good as Roger, the phenomenally egotistical director. Generally, one doesn’t expect a good performance from a stand-up comic, but Klein proves to be a very amusing asshole. Although, I’ve seen interviews with the man and while he’s very funny, he also seems to be his own biggest fan, so this performance might not have been 100% acting.
The plot is nicely straightforward, as a friendly rivalry starts up between Hooper and new kid on the block Ski (Jan-Michael Vincent). Given that both of them are stuntmen, their rivalry takes the form of progressively more insane stunts, with the biggest coming at the end, where they work together to do an intricate driving routine that ends with a huge jump over a gap in a bridge.
First and foremost, the film is a love letter to the stunt industry, and all of the gags shown are top notch, with huge falls, a nice bit where Hooper drives a jeep backwards on a highway, a huge bar room brawl with some other stunt guys (one of whom is Terry Bradshaw!), an incredible high dive from a helicopter, and of course, the big finale.
An amusing thing about the music: In one or two spots while a stunt is being performed, the music bears a very close resemblance to the James Bond theme, which is appropriate, since the film-within-the-film is a spy movie. But it always makes me laugh because of how close Needham came to getting his ass sued into the next century by the 007 producers thanks to The Cannonball Run, which we’ll get to in a short while.
The end credits mark the first appearance of the traditional blooper reel you get with most Needham movies. It’s mostly footage of the stunts, but it’s still worth noting because Needham’s growth as a director is now complete. His next four films will be pretty much the same goddamn movie in some way or another: Gratuitous stunts, stunt casting, excessive football players trying to act, and very little in the way of plot. You’ll see soon enough.
I hope you enjoyed watching this ascent, folks, because the trip down is a bitch. Welcome to the shit.
It seemed like a good idea at the time: Smokey and the Bandit Part II (1980)
Here’s where the wheels begin to fall off. While the first two collaborations feature Reynolds as a likable yet rough around the edges guy, here (as in the next three films we’ll examine) he’s just a moody, egotistical douche bag. I think that somewhere along the line for Reynolds, life began to imitate art.
The plot, what little there is of it, concerns Bandit trying to transport an elephant from Florida to the Republican National Convention in Texas on a dare from the Burdettes. Sally Field, Jerry Reed, and Jackie Gleason are back, and Dom DeLuise shows up as an Italian gynecologist. Oh yes, there will be endless stunts and cameos. This film is arguably the worst of the six I’m covering here, so I’ll give it a bit more attention.
Things begin well enough, as a cop car chases another car around the Universal logo, crashing out of sight, after which we hear the Chick Laugh. We go downhill very quickly though, as we find Big Enos and Little Enos at an event where Big Enos is making his bid for governor. He’s interrupted by his opponent, who leads a three plane bomber run over the stage, and dumps a ton of shit on the Burdettes. What an amazing coincidence, I’m about to do the same thing to the rest of this movie. What are the odds, huh?
The Burdettes retaliate with a bombing run of their own using paint, and after a chewing out from the incumbent governor in which Big Enos overhears the plot point concerning the GOP convention, we go to the credits.
Rather than making the pitch to Bandit, the Burdettes approach Cletus first. From there, Cletus gets back in touch with Bandit who, much like the actor playing him, has lost his curveball. Now a depressed drunk, he communicates mainly in belches and groans. So, Burt Reynolds was a sex symbol at one point, you say? How about after this film?
Sadly, this is about as likable as he’ll get for the next hour and a half.
After getting the Burdettes up to $400,000 to do the job from their initial $200,000 offer, Bandit starts crying, since he and Carrie broke up in between films. By sheer coincidence, Sally Field and Burt had been an item briefly in real life, and had also broken up.
Speaking of Carrie, we find her as she’s about to get married to Junior Justice for a second time. Why she would consider doing this a second time when she ran out on him the first time is beyond me, but I guess they figured Sally Field has an Oscar, so she must be talented enough to make anything work. Yeah, I know.
On the plus side, we do get Jackie Gleason back, complete with an idiotic relaxation gag that comes up whenever Bandit’s name is mentioned. It’s… Well, it’s not the least funny thing I’ve ever seen in my life, I can say that much. But then again, I sat through Man Trouble, so I’m probably not the best judge.