Tag Archives: Burt Reynolds

Cannonball Run II (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Too much lame humor.

Since the first installment of this franchise ended up taking in $72 million and becoming the 6th highest grossing film of 1981 the studio heads in their typical fashion decided to capitalize on it and squeeze as much breath out of the cornball concept as they could, which lead to this ill-advised sequel. As lame as the first one was this one is even worse and even less focused on racing.

The actual race, if you can call it that, doesn’t begin until 45 minutes in with the whole first half spent dealing with the silly backstories of how each ‘zany character’ decides to get back into the event, which is all very unnecessary and just an excuse to bombard the viewer with an onslaught of stupid gags that are on a kindergarten level. Once the race does get going it’s spent dealing with cartoonish stunts and then ends with a long drawn-out fight between the drivers and some gangsters, which makes it seem like it shouldn’t be called a racing movie at all.

Roger Ebert described the film as “one of the laziest insults to the intelligence of moviegoers that I can remember” and he’s right. Some silly humor is okay, but there needs to be another added element. For instance in The Gumball Rally, which wasn’t all that great, but still far better than this, there was the same silliness, but at least there was also one scene showing from a driver’s point-of-view a car speeding down the closed off streets of Park Avenue, which was that film’s best moment. In Paul Bartel’s Cannonball! you had a horrific car crash, which was controversial, but at least gave it some sort of edge. This film has no edge it’s just one-dimensional stupidity from the first frame to the last. The opening sequence is almost shot for shot the exact same as the one in the first installment, which shows how limited writer/director Hal Needham’s creative well likely was.

The only interesting aspect about it as with the first movie is the eclectic cast. Dean Martin for what it’s worth looks much more energized here than he did in the first one and Sammy Davis Jr. is quite funny and if they had built the film around him it would’ve been an improvement. It’s also fun seeing Richard Kiel playing a more normal type of person and not just a doofus giant caricature like he usually got stuck with. However, this installment also has Alex Rocco and Abe Vigoda playing gangsters who try various inane ways to stop Jamie Farr’s Arab character from winning, which makes the stunts in an old Wily E. Coyote/Road Runner cartoons seem genuinely highbrow by comparison.

I was surprised to see Shirley MacLaine in this thing. She possibly took the part so she could reunite with her Rat Pack co-stars even though she never appears in any scene with them, but she had just gotten done winning the Academy Award for Terms of Endearment and it was like receiving all the accolades and prestige that comes with that award and then immediately throwing it all in the toilet by doing something that was completely beneath her talents. Her part is quite small and insignificant. Marilu Henner, who plays her partner as two out-of-work actresses disguised as nuns, comes off better and looks younger and prettier, which made me think Maclaine’s role could’ve been excised completely and simply combined with Henner’s.

What’s even more surprising is the presence of Reynolds. Back in 1982 he stated that he wasn’t going to do anymore ‘car chase movies’ and even turned down on an offer to star in Smokey and the Bandit III for that reason, so then why star in something that is just as bad or even worse. I think he can be a strong actor if given a good script and  I meet the man back in 1995 and shook hands with him during a book signing, so I don’t mean to seem overly harsh, but his brand became stigmatized by doing too many of these ‘good-ole’ boy’ productions and he was never able to recover. He had a brief renaissance with Boogie Nights, but that was about it. Starring in ‘Evening Shade’ doesn’t count because TV work is considered a downgrade from being in the movies and usually only taken when the movie roles dry up. The scene where he dresses up in a harem costume and pretends to be a female dancer is particularly demeaning and has to be considered an embarrassing career low point for any star that was once considered a male hunk.

Fortunately the audiences had wised up and after a strong opening weekend the film’s box office returns plummeted and it only ended up grossing $28 million, which was far less than the first one. This thankfully slowed up the need to make any more cannonball movies although in 1989 they made one more called Speed Zone, which because I’ve become very burnt out with these car racing flicks will be reviewed at a later time…a MUCH later time.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: June 29, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Hal Needham

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Cannonball Run (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: A very stupid movie.

This film is based on the same real-life cross country race that also inspired The Gumball Rally and Cannonball, but unlike those two, which weren’t very good anyways; this movie doesn’t emphasize the race and doesn’t even get going with it until 35 minutes into the runtime. Instead the viewer gets treated to one lame, cornball gag after another making the already threadbare premise seem like only an afterthought.

The most surprising thing is that the screenplay was written by Brock Yates, who was the man who came up with the idea for the race back in 1971 and was participant in all 4 times that it ran. In fact both he and director Hal Needham took part in the 1979 race as driving partners using the very same ambulance that Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise use in the movie. The two pretended to be actual paramedics in order to avoid being stopped by cops when they sped. They even hired a medical doctor to ride along in back to make it seem more legit in case they did get pulled over and Yates’ wife was used as a pretend patient. They almost won it too out of 46 other participants that ran, but lost when their transmission conked out 50 miles from the finish line.

You would think if the script was written by someone who had actually driven in the race that he would’ve been able to offer more insight about the experience, but instead we get bombarded with ‘zany characters’ that are so outlandishly over-the-top that you feel embarrassed for the actors playing them.

The only interesting aspect is the eclectic cast that unfortunately, like with the movie, seem uninspired and going through the motions simply to collect a paycheck. Reynolds, who admitted in interviews to not liking the movie and having ‘sold-out’ simply for the salary, is especially lethargic. He’s not involved in much of the action and never even seen driving while wearing what looks like a wig and ultimately at the cusp of what would eventually be a major career downturn that he was never able to fully recover from.

Supporting players seem almost exploited particularly Jack Elam whose real-life handicap gets used to make his character seem ‘crazy’. Back when he was a child he got into a fight with another kid at a Boy Scout meeting and his left eye was poked with a pencil, causing him to lose his sight with it and giving him a perennial ‘lazy-eye’ that never moved in tandem with his right one. To help make this less pronounced he grew a mustache and beard, but here that gets shaved off making his weird gaze more pronounced, but the ‘crazy look’ gag is a boring one-joke that gets way overplayed.

Dean Martin, in his first movie in 6 years, looks old and washed-up. His Rat Pack partner Sammy Davis Jr. is also on-hand, but is much more energetic and into it while Martin walks around constantly with a drink in hand and looking ready for the grave.

The only member of the cast that comes off well is Farrah Fawcett who was at her all-time hottest and is just cute enough to keep the film passable, but the rest of it is worthless. Silly humor is okay as long as other elements are wrapped around it, but this thing has nothing else to offer. It’s just one stupid comedy bit after another that will prove too moronic for even those with a low bar.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 19, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Hal Needham

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Lucky Lady (1975)

lucky lady

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Three’s not a crowd.

Walker (Burt Reynolds) and Claire (Liza Minnelli) make money by helping people illegally cross the Mexican border into the states, but when their third partner in the business dies and they almost get arrested they decide to get into an easier line of work. With the help of Kibby (Gene Hackman) they become rum-runners who transport liquor by boat under the cover of night during the prohibition era. As the three start to have some success and get to know each other they also form a love triangle and spend their evenings involved in a ménage-a-trois.

If you’re in the mood for non-think, grandiose style entertainment made in the same vein of classic movies from Hollywood’s golden era then you should find this more than satisfying. The plot moves along at a nice breezy pace with characters that are distinct and fun and full of snappy dialogue. The majority of the story takes place on water, but manages to remain quite exciting and ironically only becomes waterlogged when it goes on land. The lavish sets are splendid and the film could be enjoyed by simply taking in those alone.

The three leads are in top form and play against type. Minnelli, who actually looks sexy here in a flapper styled hairdo, is quite amusing with her acerbic one-liners. Reynolds is great as the klutzy member of the trio and Hackman is solid as always playing someone who seems meek at first, but eventually takes over things with his patented strong personality. Unfortunately John Hillerman, best known for playing Higgins in the ‘Magnum P.I.’ TV-series, is the only weak link of the cast playing a bad guy that never conveys enough menace to be truly threatening.

A young Robby Benson who was 18 at the time, but looks more like 14 is quite good in support. I was never all that impressed with the former teen heart throb, but here he is effective playing a shy kid who says little, but when he does say something it’s a gem. Geoffrey Lewis is also quite funny as an inept Captain of the Coast Guard. Mills Watson, who is best known for playing Deputy Perkins on the ‘The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo’ TV-series can be spotted in a couple of scenes. IMDb does not have him listed here, but I recognized him and his name does come up on the closing credits as a character named Giff.

For lightweight entertainment the film does have quite a few action sequences that are surprisingly well choreographed and even quite bloody, but the climatic sequence becomes too cartoonish. I was also disappointed that the one unique element of the story, which is the three getting into a relationship, is only mildly touched upon and basically forgotten after the first hour. The film could’ve gone a lot farther with that and even made it the centerpiece of the plot, which would’ve helped make it more character driven and groundbreaking.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stanley Donen

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

 

W. W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975)

w w dixie dancekings

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Conman promotes country band.

Burt Reynolds plays a good-natured, fun-loving conman who travels the south robbing gas stations as well as conning anyone out of their money in any way he can. He comes into contact with the Dixie Dancekings a struggling country band trying to make it big. W.W. initially sees this as another con-game by pretending to be a big time manager, who can use his influence to bring them to Nashville and send them straight to the top, but eventually he takes a liking to them and them to him and they begin working together to make it big while robbing banks along the way.

The film  is  fun and breezy and quite entertaining at the start. Reynolds’ charm practically propels the thing the whole way and manages to almost make up for its other shortcomings. His glib non sequiturs and boyish grin are on full display making this one of his better comical vehicles. I also loved the creative scene transitions and the playful digs at southern culture. It all comes to a head near the midway point when the group robs a bank with Polly Holliday playing the teller that makes great use of its cartoonish props and overblown action.

Unfortunately Thomas Rickman’s script fails to introduce any type of third act. The story coasts too much on its playful humor until it becomes old and tiring. There is not enough momentum or conflict and no discernable tension at all. The band members have no individual personalities and come off like faceless lemmings that are there to support Reynolds’ spotlight and nothing more.  Art Carney has a few interesting moments cast in an atypical role of the heavy in this case a police detective who is also a religious zealot that tracks the group down, but the dumb way that their final confrontation gets resolved is dull and disappointing.

It’s great to see country singer Jerry Reed making is acting film debut as he and Reynolds  would later go on to star in three more films together, but his character is not given enough to do, which ultimately makes is presence pointless.  Conny Van Dyke gets cast as the female lead, but shows little pizazz. The part was originally offered to Dolly Parton who would’ve been far superior, but she unfortunately turned it down.

John G. Avildsen’s direction is at times creative, but the plot and characters needed more layers as it all regrettably adds up to being nothing more than forgettable fluff.

w w dixie dancekings 2

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 21, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John G. Avildsen

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: None at this time.

Paternity (1981)

paternity

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bachelor wants a son.

Despite managing Madison Square Garden, having lots of money and good looks Buddy Evans (Burt Reynolds) is still single at 44. He is happy with his bachelorhood, but still longs for a having a son. He comes up with the idea of paying a woman to have his child while treating it solely as a business proposition without any romance or relationship attached to it, after interviewing several ‘candidates’ he finally settles on Maggie (Beverly D’Angelo) a waitress who can use the money to further her education. Things are expectedly awkward at first, but as the process continues Maggie finds herself falling in love with him and trying to turn it into a relationship despite his reluctance.

Reynolds is a dynamic star with an engaging onscreen presence particularly in comedies, but his appearance here hurts the picture more than it helps it. For one thing it doesn’t make sense why this great looking guy with tons of cash can’t find a woman. And just why is he so reluctant to get into a committed relationship? What about this character’s background makes him the way he is? It never gets explained, but would’ve helped give the film more depth had it been. A better concept would’ve been portraying the character as being a rich guy who is also short, fat, bald and lacking in the romantic graces, but woman still tolerate because of his money, which would’ve ultimately made this more realistic, edgier and funnier.

I really liked D’Angelo and considered this her best performance, but having her fall in love with the guy and turning this into just another formulaic, sterile romantic comedy was a ridiculous stupid idea and makes it almost excruciating to watch. The guy spends the whole time acting like he owns her by telling her what to eat and do while being outrageously ambivalent to her feelings or needs. Any woman that would fall in love with a guy that her treats that way should see a psychiatrist and get some self-respect.

Comedian David Steinberg makes his directorial debut here and I liked the way he begins the film by having pictures of baby’s faces lining the screen during the credits all to the sound of them cooing and crying. He also pays loving tribute to his adopted city of New York by having some fabulous shots of the skyline and some scenic moments in Central Park that accentuate the fall foliage. In fact it is for these two reasons only that I generously give this thing a measly 1-point.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: October 2, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated PG

Director: David Steinberg

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS

City Heat (1984)

city heat

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Clint and Burt together.

Mike Murphy (Burt Reynolds) is a private eye living in 1930’s Kansas City who at one time worked as a cop. When his friend Dehl (Richard Roundtree) gets murdered after obtaining the secret accounting records of a local mobster and then trying to blackmail him with it Mike goes on a mission to find the culprit, but soon finds himself in over his head. His former police partner Speer (Clint Eastwood) gets involved and the two reluctantly work together to solve the case despite the many clashes with their personalities and methods.

The script was written by Blake Edwards who gets credited under the pseudonym Sam O. Brown. He was originally slated to direct, but Burt didn’t want to work with Edward’s wife Julie Andrews who was cast in the role that later went to Madeline Kahn because the two had clashed just a year earlier while starring in The Man Who Loved Woman. Clint desired a less intense director at the helm, so the two used their star status to have Edwards yanked from the project and replaced with actor-turned-director Richard Benjamin. The result is a strange mish-mash of a movie that at times seems like a pedestrian action flick and at other moments becomes a campy comedy.

The film starts off well. I enjoyed the fight Reynolds with has with two men inside a café while Eastwood sits back and does nothing, but things deteriorate quickly after that. Part of the problem is Eastwood and Reynolds are only funny when they are seen together and working off of each other’s contrasting styles. Alone there are boring at least here with Eastwood playing too much of a caricature of himself while Reynolds is unconvincing as a tough guy. The film would’ve worked much better had the two been partners from the very beginning instead of throwing in this contrived bitterness between the two, which is never funny or interesting.

Outside of Rip Torn’s performance as a rival gang boss the supporting cast is wasted especially Jane Alexander in a thankless throwaway role as Reynold’s secretary. Kahn manages to have some redeeming moments when she gets kidnapped by the mob and then beats her captors at poker, but it is not enough. Irene Cara sings a few good tunes, but proves to be weak as an actress.

The shootouts are great and the best thing in the movie as unlike the rest of the film they manage to have a nice balance between being exciting and funny. Unfortunately the plot itself is overblown, confusing and formulaic and a prime example of a Hollywood production relying too much on the charisma of its two stars while failing to supply them with material that is fresh or original.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 7, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Benjamin

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

smokey and the bandit 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: On the road again.

Hal Needham is to bad movies like a cow is to milk and yet when compared to his later efforts this really isn’t too bad especially when you factor in that the main goal was to create light entertainment, which is what this amounts to.

The ‘story’ involves truck driver Cledus (Jerry Reed) bootlegging beer across state lines. Partner Bandit (Burt Reynolds) acts as a decoy by driving in front of the truck in a car with a souped up engine. Jackie Gleason plays the sheriff out to get them.

The set-up could have been played out more and would have been funnier if it had. Sally Field is a nice addition and has a rare turn of being portrayed as a sexy lady. Her initial banter with Reynolds is fun, but having their relationship immediately turn romantic bogs everything down. It would have worked better had things stayed slightly antagonistic and then turned lovey-dovey only at the very end.

Reynolds has always had great charm and it’s played to the hilt here. His laugh alone is infectious, but he seems a little bit too laid back and detached. He goes through all sorts of wild car chases, but neither he nor is car ever receive even a little scratch. The police are also too inept and it would have been nice if they had, even momentarily, apprehended Reynolds just too prove they were a viable threat and given this thing a little tension.

Gleason is fun and his presence gives this film most of its points. Unlike Reynolds he isn’t so detached and he infuses his part with a lot of energy. His ad-libbed scatological lines at the beginning are great as is his coined “sumbitch” phrase. Seeing him stubbornly continue to drive his squad car even as it becomes increasingly smashed up is a good piece visually.

However, the film tends to water-down his character, which was a mistake. The biggest problem is the fact that he is initially portrayed as an intimidating figure. Then it proceeds to show him constantly out ranked and out managed by the other police forces in all the other counties he goes into while chasing Reynolds. Eventually it makes him seem too ineffectual and stupid. It would have worked better had the chase taken place solely in Gleason’s county, therefore having him stay funny, but still maintaining his menacing presence. It also would have been nice to have more direct confrontations between him and Reynolds although the one they do have is pretty good.

Needham was a former stunt man so the actual star of the picture is supposed to be the stunt work, but this area seems pretty derivative and features stuff that has been done hundreds of times before. The chases should’ve been extended and shot from more exciting angles. The climatic chase sequence is weak and can’t even hold a pinkie to the one used in The Blues Brothers.

Overall though it has enough good banter and star chemistry to be amiable.

smokey and the bandit 2

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 27, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Hal Needham

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, HDDVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video