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Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
Friday, May 19, 2006
Burt Reynolds Fights Ninjas
I'm betting you're thinking that if you live to be 100, you'll never enjoy the amazing sight of Burt Reynolds beating the shit out of a couple of ninjas. Well, you'd actually be right, but just barely.

LD and Chicken came by this week for a showing of SHARKY'S MACHINE. The dumb bastards at Warner Brothers have only released it in the U.S. on a 1998 full-frame DVD, so I had to find a dub of the Region 4 DVD, which is close to the proper aspect ratio. Close enough anyway.

SHARKY'S MACHINE is the best film directed by Burt Reynolds, who also stars in it as Sharky, a tough narcotics cop who gets screwed by the department after a bust goes bad and he takes the blame. He's transferred to the shithole of Vice, which is headquartered in the precinct basement and plays host to the worst pimps, hookers, dopers, and lowlifes Atlanta has to offer. The cops assigned to Vice were once among the cream of the crop, but the frustration and humiliation of what they do has turned them into jelly.

So it is that they leap at the chance to do real police work. A case involving a major pimp and a politician (Earl Holliman) running for governor spurs Sharky to put an illegal 24-hour surveillance on the apartment of a gorgeous $1000-a-night call girl named Dominoe (Rachel Ward). While spying on her, Sharky falls in love with her, and he takes the case personally when a crazed, cokeheaded assassin (Henry Silva) blasts her face off with a shotgun.

Reynolds the actor certainly loved the opportunity to put together a very sharp cast for his crime drama, including Charles Durning as his Vice boss, Brian Keith, Bernie Casey and Richard Libertini as his "machine", John Fiedler, Vittorio Gassman, Hari Rhodes, Joseph "Stefano" Mascolo and Darryl Hickman as a jerk cop named Smiley. Reynolds the stuntman certainly dug the brutal action scenes, including an opening shootout on a city bus and a suspenseful climax with Sharky and Silva stalking each other on the top floors of the Peachtree Plaza Hotel. And Reynolds the director got to spot the film with a lot of cool jazz songs by artists like Julie London and Joe Williams.

SHARKY's pace flags somewhat in the middle, as Reynolds spends more time than he needed on conversations (albeit well-acted ones) between cops that don't serve the plot and on Sharky's various introspections. What we'd rather see is Reynolds fighting ninjas.

Hallelujah! Can you believe it? While poking around a friend's basement, Sharky is attacked by two Asian badasses with "numbchucks", who start whaling away at Sharky, "kicking his ass," to paraphrase Casey. The fight is well-staged by Reynolds, who has to come out second best (let's face it, not even Burt can beat up a pair of awesome ninjas), but he holds his own and has nothing to be ashamed of. And Sharky gets a second crack at them a little while later, and two guesses as to who survives.

Posted by Marty at 12:23 AM CDT
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Friday, May 19, 2006 - 5:17 PM CDT

Name: Jim Kenney

SHARKY'S MACHINE is one of my all-time faves, and I too tracked down the R4 SHARKY'S MACHINE, which looks to me to be the full-frame version slightly squished w/ black bars put around it...I don't see any additional footage in any direction when I compare, do you ? (Or did you bother? I only note because your "close enough anyway" infers you weren't fully happy with the framing).
I affectionately disagree, though, which much else you say -- it's all those "pace-flagging" well-acted cop conversations that move this movie out of simple policier-territory into something more unique and memorable. The various scenes of the men watching Domino and talking about old cases, Korea and such really get across the ennui that can come w/ such work yet (for me) anyway are hilarious, terrific scenes that are some of the best moments in their careers for Bernie Casey and Richard Libertini -- and for Reynolds too, who largely allows his ego to remain in check and hand over scenes to some wonderful actors. So when the action finally flies at you, you've got something invested in the characters, and as the back of the old video box said (I don't know if the dvd does), in Sharky's Machine "Even the good die fast." You don't really touch upon in your review that the film has some rather drastic ends for some rather likeable characters, so that the over-the-top end to Silva is nearly justified...

And the initial ninja sequence for me was the worst in the movie, although the follow-up scene with the finger-cutting is another great one, and Reynolds escape sequence good too (although the Ninja's slight nod to Burt, a la "you have earned my respect" when he dies was a bit of Burt's ego acting up again). For me, it's a masterpiece of sorts, and started Reynolds 2nd decade as a superstar off on the right note -- it's still amazing how he quickly squandered both his money-making abilities and the critical goodwill he built up with this, STARTING OVER, SEMI-TOUGH and others so quickly, although I guess CANNONBALL 2 and STROKER would make anyone think twice about the energy they invested in supporting him. I guess those, plus well-meant misfires like MAN WHO LOVED... and the disastrous CITY HEAT were too much for one Burt to overcome.

Of his "lost" period, I like MALONE, although both the plot and his thick, curly toupee don't make any sense. The cast underplays it generally and does it well. HEAT stinks, save for a few bits b/w Burt and Peter Mcnichol detailing Burt's gambling addiction, and RENT-A-COP is lame, too, although Burt's embarrased underplaying and Liza's well-somebody's-gotta-carry-this-thing hamminess amuses me when I'm in the right frame of mind. PHYSICAL EVIDENCE just lays there like a dropped egg.

Anyway, Marty, just checking in...

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