Friday, January 23, 2009

Film Review: HOOPER (1978, Hal Needham)

Stars: 3.9 of 5.
Running Time: 99 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Brian Keith, Adam West, Terry Bradshaw, Robert Klein, John Marley, a shit-ton of stuntmen.
Tag-lines: "It just ain't summer without Burt!" AND "Ain't nobody can fly a car like Hooper!"
Best one-liner(s): "Everyone get drunk and be somebody!" AND "Somebody call him a cab." "I don't need a cab...I AM a cab."

This film doesn't quite deserve four stars, but there's something about the giddy, incorrigible, self-reflexive final freeze frame that leaves me no other choice. Burt Reynolds IS Sonny Hooper, the greatest stuntman alive, doubling on a film for Adam West, who plays himself. Burt's girlfriend, as in real life at the time, is Sally Field, and her dad, Brian Keith (REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE), is a stunt legend and Hooper's mentor. Jan-Michael Vincent (AIRWOLF) is the brash up-and-comer. A few large stunt setpieces, a bar fight, and a smidgen of human drama are woven across this tapestry of characters, and that's about all there is to this movie, besides it being the most comprehensive and in-joke-filled tribute to stunt people ever. But there's some great stuff in there. Burt & Co. taunt local cops, get in barfights with Terry Bradshaw and then become friends, go drunk driving, do inappropriate things to women's asses while in Friar Tuck costumes (and this a full five years before the famous goosing on the poster of STROKER ACE), taunt animal rights advocates, etc. Yep, it's whacky, alright.

Hijinks to ensue in: 5... 4... 3... 2...

But the thing that truly pushes this thing over the edge is Burt's laugh. It's usually pretty girlish, and that's always been one of his trademarks. I don't know if he just feels more comfortable here since Sally Field's around or something, but here there is ZERO restraint. The laugh goes up another ten notches, to the point he could conceivably be auditioning to do the voice of Elmo. So you gotta enjoy the unrestrained Reynolds glee, which ultimately manifests itself with a look straight into the camera, a silly grin, and the 'okay' sign, captured for all-time as the closing freeze frame.

Bravo, Hooper. Though the film probably would have been a bigger hit if they'd called it SMOKEY AND THE HOOPER. This is just the goofy primer, however, cause now you gotta rent SHARKY'S MACHINE and travel into the tortured inner depths of Burt's soul...

-Sean Gill

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