BEFORE: Over the weekend I went out to dinner with my parents, sort of an early Father's Day dinner, then on Sunday went to a German picnic with my Mom. This pre-summer event takes place in the town next to my hometown, I've been going to it since I was a kid - my grandmother used to sneak me a sip of beer when I was a young teen, and my Mom and I would dance the polka. Now it's just a chance to stuff my belly with German food and beer, but that's fun, too.
I took the early morning train back to New York, of course the only way I'm going to catch a 6:20 train is to stay up all night, so then put in a full workday on just a few hours sleep, which I caught on the train. It's funny how I was looking forward to the weekend as a chance to relax, spend time with the folks and maybe catch up on a little sleep, and now I'm more exhausted than I was before I took the trip.
But it's back to the land of making movies, for me that's NYC, but for most people, that's Hollywood, so the Burt Reynolds chain appropriately lands in L.A. today.
THE PLOT: Hollywood aging stuntman Sonny Hooper wants to prove that he's still got what it takes to be a great professional in this risky and under-recognized line of work.
AFTER: I watched the first two "Smokey and the Bandit" films a few years ago, so my nod to Burt's "Sally Field" years comes in the form of "Hooper". After years of making Westerns and crime films with some notable stunts (like that guy falling off the building in "Stick"), this was a very crafty way to pack a lot of stunts into a film, by making a film about stuntmen. This way they didn't have to write a plot that incorporated the stunts, by making them part of the film-within-a-film, they could do whatever stunts they wanted!
They even had Burt's Hooper character screen a showreel of his greatest stunts, and that included the rafting scene from "Deliverance", where he got thrown from the canoe, and Burt broke his back for real. Inside joke, or takedown of the Hollywood system? And then they should out-takes from the stunts in THIS film over the closing credits, which of course led to the infamous "blooper reel" closings seen in the later "Cannonball Run" films and such.
The stunt show performed for the "boys' home" is another sneaky way to get more stunts in the film, including a Western shoot-out and a chariot race, which otherwise would never be in the same movie. Along the way, we also get a couple of bar fights, people jumping from helicopters, and a rocket car going over a gorge.
Meanwhile Hooper knows his body is breaking down, he's taking more and more pain pills and developing a rapport with his orthopedic surgeon. One more good hit could take him out of the business for good, but like Burt's bodyguard in "Heat", he needs one more large payday to get himself out of the game. So he plans his greatest stunt, which will get him the money he needs if it goes well, or possibly paralyze him if it doesn't. The trick then becomes convincing the film's director to do the stunt and get him the paycheck he needs, and also to have enough safety in the stunt that he can still walk away from it when it's over.
Fiction and reality were sort of blurred here, since both Reynolds and director Hal Needham were former stuntmen, and Burt was dating Sally Field, whose stepfather was stuntman Jock Mahoney. In the film Hooper dates Field's character Gwen, whose father is a stuntman named Jocko. Plus there are plenty of in-jokes, like having the people on set care more about the life of the dog in a scene than that of the stuntman. I'm sure that's happened.
Also starring Sally Field (last seen in "Where the Heart Is"), Jan-Michael Vincent, Brian Keith (last seen in "The Pleasure Seekers"), Robert Klein (last seen in "Two Weeks Notice"), James Best, Adam West (last seen in "Starring Adam West"), John Marley (last seen in "Cat Ballou"), Terry Bradshaw (last seen in "Failure to Launch"), Alfie Wise, Don "Red" Barry (also carrying over from "Hustle").
RATING: 6 out of 10 airbags