Burt Reynolds, like others throughout history in Hollywood, went from being a joke to being a popular and lovable joke to finally becoming an icon. It’s a somewhat parallel path taken by Clint Eastwood, who went from TV to spaghetti Westerns to “Dirty Harry” (click here for my review) to Oscar-winning cinema. While you can’t compare Burt critically in genres to Clint, Reynolds endured a lot, did a ton of good work and certainly qualifies as an iconic figure in cinema. So today, let’s take a look at Burt in “Hooper,” the story of an aging Hollywood stuntman challenged by an up-and comer. Reynolds could relate as he was aging even in 1978, but came back to life in each of the next three decades to become the icon he is today. I believe “Hooper” is Burt’s best work – even ahead of his most iconic film: “Smokey and the Bandit” (click here for my review) from the year before “Hooper.”
(1978; 99 minutes; rated PG; directed by Hal Needham and starring Burt Reynolds, Jan-Michael and Sally Field)
BURT, BEING BURT … AND SO IT’S GOOD!
(NOTE: I expanded this review on Sept. 9, 2014, and then expanded it with additional opinion and trivia and fixed some typos on Jan. 17, 2016. I did another expansion with additional opinion, trivia and the fixing of links on Feb. 12, 2017.)
Let’s talk about Burt Reynolds. The Bandit. Burt. We don’t use his last name. Especially since we know him so well and that he’s an Oscar nominee for dramatic turn in “Boogie Nights.”
Now, now. Don’t turn your nose up and list him as part of the hoi polloi of Hollywood. Burt’s much, much better than that and so let’s just celebrate Burt Reynolds today. After all, he not only is “The Bandit,” he squished around in Vaseline-filled cowboy boots in “Striptease” and earned critical praise for TV’s “Evening Shade,” but we’ll look today at what I believe his best turn in the comedy-action genre: “Hooper.”
Burt’s acting credits number 184 (on Feb. 12, 2017), according to IMDb.com, beginning with one on TV in 1958’s “Flight.” As of Feb. 12, 2017, he had one film in post-production that started in 2016 and one each from 2017 in post-production and “completed” status. There are another 46 citations in a variety of roles including producer, writer and even one as a casting director (“Hard Time,” a 1998 TV movie in which he starred). Whew! He’s been a busy guy and marked his 81st birthday on Feb. 11, 2017. (UPDATE: Sadly, Burt would die of a heart attack at 82 in Jupiter, Fla., on Sept. 6, 2018.)
So, on with the review.
In the film “Hooper,” Reynolds plays the title role of “Sonny Hooper,” the top-gun, ultra-cool professional stuntman. However, despite being on top, he’s getting a bit older and is now feeling the heat as he’s being overtaken by a younger guy, just as he took over from his predecessor.
Although “Hooper” is nearly completely defined through stunt scenes, Reynolds manages a surprisingly strong effort of emotion in this film by the late Hal Needham, who died in 2013 and was at one time the highest paid stuntman before becoming a director (sound familiar, Sonny Hooper?). Reynolds is terrific at conveying “Sonny’s” vulnerability to age and how he handles it. It’s simply good, solid work by an actor.
“Hooper,” which in my opinion ranks just ahead of the original “Smokey and the Bandit” as Burt’s best (click here for my review and forget dramatic turns, he’s always been an action-comedy guy at heart). Reynolds is most effective at showing the aging Sonny’s inner stress about that falling feeling that athletes and other competitive individuals experience as they face a decline in their physical careers.
Jan-Michael Vincent (who has managed 85 credits listed on IMDb.com) and Sally Field are the top of the supporting cast that also includes Brian Keith, Robert Klein and former pro footballer-turned-actor-turned-broadcaster Terry Bradshaw, who does a commendable job here.
Also look for Adam “Batman” West and “The Godfather’s” John Marley (remember the Hollywood guy with the horse’s head in the bed?). Another supporting cast member is Alfie Wise, a longtime Reynolds friend, plays Burt’s antagonist “Tony” (he was also in “Smokey and the Bandit”).
Here we go …
- Two-time Golden Globe nominee (not for this one) Vincent is just right as the up-and-coming “Delmore ‘Ski’ Shidski” and he plays off Reynolds well. It’s difficult from this role to in any way judge Vincent’s acting talent as a younger man, but you don’t mind watching him here. He’s also been in the original “The Mechanic” with Charles Bronson (click here for my review) as well as a string of TV roles.
- A two-time Oscar-winner (not for this one), Field certainly doesn’t stretch her award-winning talent here and she’s pretty much left in the background as “Gwen Doyle,” the daughter of “Jocko Doyle” played by Keith. Field has been in “Norma Rae,” “ Doubtfire” and “Punchline.”
- Two-time Primetime Emmy nominee Robert Klein plays “Roger Deal,” who is the director of the fictional film in “Hooper.” Klein’s character, according to some sources, is a bit of a spoof on Peter Bogdonavich. Klein has never directed a film, but does have 85 acting credits including “Primary Colors” and “Goosed.”
- Three-time Primetime Emmy nominee Keith, who was best known for TV’s “Family Affair,” is smooth as the retired king of the stuntmen. He nags Reynolds about marrying Field, but like others is window dressing here. Keith was also in “Sharky’s Machine” with Reynolds.
- James Best plays “Cully” and is Burt’s Ed McMahon. He is a voice of reason that “Sonny Hooper” listens to, but seldom (if ever) accepts his advice. Best is smooth, affable and fun to watch. He knows how to play second fiddle and was also in “Sounder” and is best remembered as the iconic “Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane” in TV’s “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
There are lots of insider Hollywood jokes in “Hooper” and the bar scene with Bradshaw is hilarious. In fact, Bradshaw’s short stint on screen is funny in each and every moment. He’s truly affable and funny and gets more screen time in Burt’s “The Cannonball Run” (click here for my review).
On a look-back note, by the end of the 1980s, Reynolds’ career was becoming stagnant (with an Emmy for “Evening Shade” a bright spot in 1990). However, the later 1990s saw a resurgence in his role first as a drunken politician in 1996’s “Striptease” adapted from the Carl Hiaasen novel. The following year he garnered tons of critical accolades for his role in the “Boogie Nights” drama about the porn industry.
Reynolds’ not-so-private life has had the usual Hollywood ups, downs, in-betweens and just plain stupids. Ah, but he’s the Bandit, remember?
I cannot say for sure if this is the first film in which Burt wears a shirt with the Florida State University logo. However, it’s on him here in a scene where he’s working out and talking to Marley. F$U is Reynolds’ alma matter (he played football and I use the dollar symbol for its past transgressions about enriching players and ongoing criminal issues involving its players to date) and, in my opinion, is that university’s outstanding alumnus – right ahead of fellow entertainment icon Nancy Kulp, who was TV’s “Miss Jane Hathaway” on “The Beverly Hillbillies” (she also earned a degree from the University of Miami – another school with a long history of sleazy behavior and cheating … opponents say you cannot spell “scum” without “UM”).
Also, Burt identifies frequently with the state of Georgia after being born in Lansing, Mich., and that makes it doubly tough for this Florida Gator to like him. However, just as the Masters is my favorite golf tournament (it’s in Georgia, for you non-golfers), Burt ranks right up there in my mind as an entertaining actor. He’s no Olivier, but then again Laurence never did scenes in a black Trans Am.
So, you should never diss Burt because of his F$U background (it’s not his fault they are crooked slime and enjoy his favor). He’s great on screen, knows his audiences and offers great value for whatever he’s in. Simply put, you can watch and enjoy him in just about anything. Not every performer can say they reach that level on a consistent basis.
“Hooper” was the sixth ranked film of 1978 with $78 million at the U.S. box office, according to Wiki. Reynolds, like Clint Eastwood, is known as a profitable star and “Hooper” shows that with that return on a budget of $6 million (for example, Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry’s” made $35.9 million on a budget of $4 million). The No. 1 film of 1978 was “Grease” with $159.9 million. Here are my reviews of films from that year:
- “The Big Fix” (watchable comedy-drama) – click here for my review
- “The Boys from Brazil” (solid) – click here for my review
- “California Suite” (excellent drama) – click here for my review
- “Corvette Summer” (really, really putrid) – click here for my review
- “Damien: Omen II” (good horror sequel) – click here for my review
- “Every Which Way But Loose” (bad Clint) – click here for my review
- “Foul Play” (great comedy) – click here for my review
- “Halloween” (outstanding horror) – click here for my review
- “Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?” (great) – click here for my review
- “The Wild Geese” (terrible) – click here for my review
Other cast notes (via IMDb.com):
- Soupy Sales had a cameo, but the scene was cut.
- In the film, Burt and Best are friends – and they were too in real life. Best, who died of complications from pneumonia in 2015, was also an acting teacher and was an early instructor to Reynolds.
- Directly from IMDb.com: “Stunt man A.J. Bakunas, doubling for Burt Reynolds, dropped 232 feet, setting a record for the highest jump without a parachute.”
- Directly from IMDb.com: “The climactic huge stunt sequence, referred to by the crew as “Damnation Alley,” was staged at the by-that-time-disused Northington General Hospital, a World War II military hospital in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which had also been used as married-student housing by The University of Alabama. After most of the hospital buildings (including a large smokestack) were blown up or otherwise demolished for the filming, the lot was cleared and the University Mall complex was built on the site.”
- Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “The name “Hooper” is a reference to the name: “Hooker” – as in Buddy Joe Hooker ( a famous stuntman and various others in the same family). Buddy Joe Hooker‘s name even appears on a strip of tape on a drawer in “Sonny Hooper’s” (Burt Reynolds ) trailer. This can be seen over Burt’s shoulder, early in the movie, in the scene where Sonny/Burt and Cully/James Best do their Roy Rogers‘ sidekick and James Stewart Tommy J. Huff‘s name also appears on the drawer under Buddy Joe’s.”
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