Sharky’s Machine (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cop tracks hooker’s killer.

Tom Sharky (Burt Reynolds) is a veteran cop who gets demoted to the vice division after getting involved in a drug deal bust gone wrong. It is here that he begins a 24-hour surveillance of high-class hooker Dominoe (Rachel Ward) who’s seeing a candidate for Governor that may have mob ties and could threaten not only her life, but Sharky’s as well.

This film marked Reynolds thankful break from his yahoo car chase comedies and helped albeit briefly revitalize his career and return him to being an actor who could parlay various genres as opposed to an aging actor relegated to lame B-comedies. For the most part his foray into this Dirty Harry clone is effective and proves he could still act when given the right material. As opposed to some of his earlier cop flicks such as Shamus his character here is not the source of any of the humor, but instead he plays it completely straight while simply responding to some of the goofy people and situations around him, which works just as well.

This also marked his third stab at directing, which is effective. I liked the gritty feel that permeates just about every shot and there’s some good, exciting, hard-edged action. I also like the leisurely pace that takes its time in telling the story and focuses at least somewhat on the investigation aspect of police work particularly the forensic end, which I wished had been extended more. What got me though and which gets a bit excessive is the obsession with the Westin Peachtree Plaza, which at the time was Atlanta’s tallest building, and the way the camera slowly zooms in on the skyscraper almost like it wants to make love to it.

Reynolds surrounds himself with an aging cast, men well over the age of 50 and 60, which I think was intentional because by comparison it makes him, who was 45, appear much younger. However, in retrospect I think this idea was a mistake. It’s not like these old pros were bad because they’re not in fact Charles Durning is quite amusing as Reynolds’ superior who gets off listening to the dirty talk between a hooker and her customer as well as looking over the luxurious apartment of a crime kingpin and stating “I think we’re working on the wrong side”, but these veterans do not help bring in younger viewers, which could’ve broadened Reynolds appeal and the whole reason why his star status tumbled during the 80s because his fan base was getting older while newer audiences weren’t being brought in.

Spoiler Alert!

The story is entertaining, but eventually jumps-the-shark when Domino supposedly gets shot and killed only to have it turn out to be some minor character named Tiffany instead, which doesn’t make a  lot of sense as dental records would’ve identified who the real victim was during the autopsy. It also would’ve made Sharky’s obsession to nab the shooter more compelling and personal had the victim really been Domino, who he was starting to have feelings for, instead of some woman he knew nothing about.

Their romantic angle might be the first time that a hooker falls-in-love with a vice cop. The fact that she’s initially defensive towards him, but then this leads to romance after he gets on top of her and slaps her across the face while also stating during a heated exchange “Don’t make me have to say what you really are!” is probably the most absurd thing of all.

Casting Henry Silva as the psycho gunman is boring because he’s played this type of role too many times and it’s just no longer interesting seeing him do it. Also, Reynolds main nemesis throughout the film was Vittorio Gassman who orchestrated the crimes and that’s who Reynolds should’ve been chasing down at the end instead of the lowly gunman who was simply carrying out orders.

The record breaking stunt showing Dar Robinson (doubling as Silva) doing a 220 foot free-fall from Atlanta’s Hyatt Regency Hotel really isn’t as impressive as it sounds. I remember watching a behind-the-scenes documentary showing what lengths the film crew went to capture it, but you end up only seeing a few seconds of it in the actual film making it seem like it really wasn’t worth the effort to put in.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1981

Runtime: 2 Hours 2 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Burt Reynolds

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, YouTube

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