Thursday, February 10, 2011

What's A Boomerang That Doesn't Come Back?

Elmore Leonard actually adapted his own novel for STICK, but was not happy with it after Universal demanded reshoots that pushed the release back several months (Leonard shares screenplay credit with SUDDEN IMPACT’s Joseph Stinson). I can’t say Universal deserves all the blame for STICK’s failure, because Burt Reynolds, who starred and also directed it, made several bad choices of his own, including allowing his own ego to demand that his character be smarter, worldlier, and handsomer than everyone else. And more egregiously, letting co-star Charles Durning wander around under a ridiculous orange wig.

Every time I see STICK, I really try to like it. Reynolds’ previous film as a director, SHARKY’S MACHINE, is an outstanding crime drama with crackling action scenes and several well-rounded characters. If only he had taken the same approach with STICK. Even though Reynolds is wearing his “serious” toupee in it, it still plays much more like CANNONBALL RUN II than SHARKY’S MACHINE. Scenes don’t hang together well, which could be the result of post-production finetuning. Alex Rocco pops in for one scene that doesn’t have anything to do with either the story or building Burt’s character, and Deanna Lund gets nice billing for a party scene, but doesn’t even get a line.

What’s most interesting about STICK is an astounding stunt by Dar Robinson that was one of the best ever filmed up to that time. Using a device he invented called a decelerator, Robinson, playing an albino assassin named Moke, did a freefall off a building ledge using wires to break his fall. This allowed Reynolds to aim the camera over the ledge and shoot Robinson’s fall without revealing an airbag on the ground. Today it wouldn’t matter, because any wires seen on camera can be removed digitally, but Robinson’s STICK fall was a big deal in 1985.

Ernest Stickney (Reynolds), just out of the pen after a seven-year sentence, accompanies his friend Rainy (Jose Perez) to deliver drug money from eccentric pusher Chucky (Durning) to nasty supplier Nestor (Castulo Guerra). It’s a setup, and Rainy is killed. Stick survives and gets in the middle of a struggle between Nestor, against whom Stick wants revenge for Rainy’s murder, and Chucky, who owes him $5000. He hides out as a chauffeur for wealthy Barry Braham (George Segal) and begins a romantic relationship with Barry’s financial advisor Kyle (Candice Bergen).

STICK starts out promisingly with some gritty photography, tough talk, and a good action piece in the swamp. Unfortunately, after that it falls into camp with Durning and Segal playing too far over the top and Reynolds doing some characteristic clowning. He probably felt that’s what his fans wanted, but the joking harms Stick’s integrity and waters down the suspense. Humor, of course, is fine in a thriller, but STICK’s is overly buffoonish.

The film isn’t a total disaster. It isn’t as good as it should have been, so it’s a disappointment, but Reynolds is talented enough in front of and behind the camera to keep it entertaining though awkward. It didn’t do much at the box office—in fact, Burt was already through as a marketable leading man, though he didn’t know it for a few more years.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, I do remember the stunt you mention - it seemed to be featured in the ads as some kind of selling point. How long do you think until someone starts touting BR's directorial ouevre as an inspiration? Oh the humanity...