What Went Wrong? “Stick”

April 11, 2013

stickposterThis one is just sad. No, not the movie—it’s not good, but not terrible—but what’s on display in the movie. And that is Burt Reynolds on the edge of his long fall from grace. Stick was made in 1984, and was the first movie he made after his flop City Heat—on the set of which, he was struck with a metal chair that basically broke his face and left him in chronic pain, addicted to painkiller, and, for a time, unable to eat solid food. Stick is the project of a broken man, desperately trying to evade the truth of his situation, and that’s sad. Plus it’s another failed adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel, and that’s never fun.

So, Stick begins with Ernest “Stick” Stickley (Reynolds) arriving in Miami via freight train like a Depression-era hobo. Stick hooks up with a buddy of his, who offers him easy money helping him in his job as a bag man for a local cocaine distributer  named Chucky (Charles Durning in a fright wig and eyebrows that will make your nightmares seem tame by comparison). Stick does it, and gets a front-row seat to an ambush that leaves his buddy dead a big swath of Everglades in flames.

Stick tries to shrug it off, but…well, we wouldn’t have much of a movie if he did that. Instead, he gets close to Chucky by getting hired on as a chauffeur for an eccentric multimillionaire (George Segal—always fun), who likes ex-con’s on his staff. In the meantime, he starts an affair with the guy’s foxy accountant (a pre-Murphy Brown Candace Bergin), and reconnects with his teenaged daughter.

"Aaaaaaargh! My eyes! The goggles do nothing!"

“Aaaaaaargh! My eyes! The goggles do nothing!”

And not much happens for most of the middle section, until the movie kicks into high gear at the end as the drug kingpin who set up Stick’s buddy decides to clear the decks (for no reason I could pick up on), and puts Stick on a collision course with him and his creepy albino hit man (stuntman Dar Robinson). The film hits a climax straight out of a Miami Vice episode as Stick goes all Rambo on the dude by attacking his home with an MP-5 submachine gun, which, I’m pretty sure isn’t in Leonard’s book.

Reynolds directed Stick as well as starred in it, and it’s clear this project was beyond him in his damaged state. In the film’s early scenes, it’s obvious that Reynolds was having trouble delivering his lines. His voice is weak and reedy, and by the time he manages to put some tone in his breathy rasps (either he rallied, or these were the best scenes he could manage, or he ADRed them later) it’s too late not to see him as physically diminished. It also makes it impossible not to notice the 30 pounds Reynolds lost while his jaw was wired shut after his accident and the fact that he’s smaller and slighter than everyone around him.

No, the bad guy is not a Morlock.

No, the bad guy is not a Morlock.

But even without Reynolds’ damage, the movie would still be a wobbly goblin due to the studio-mandated action scenes. Allegedly unhappy with the light, breezy tone of Leonard’s story, they forced Reynolds to amp up the violence, which is why the movie’s languid pace is jarringly interrupted by scenes straight out of a gritty crime-thriller. This becomes even more problematic when it’s clear Reynolds was in no shape to do action scenes (he could barely run, and doesn’t move very fast for much of the film).

On top of that, there are just some unfortunate choices in this movie. To wit:

* Enough cannot be said about Durning’s look. It’s so bad it borders on evil, except I suspect even Satan himself would take one look and back away slowly, saying, “uh…nope…no…I’m not having anything to do with that.”

* The kingpin wears the requisite Latin-drug-kingpin linen suit and Panama hat. When did this look get started? And why? Anyone know?

* Some bad costuming choices begin with Reynolds’ workout gear: shin-high socks, nuthugger shorts, and a denim shirt tied-off at the waist like Daisy Duke! Watch these scenes and not feel your sex organs recoil in horror, I dare you.

* The creepy albino likes to dress like a cowboy. It drains quite a bit of the menace.

* But… he does feature in one amazing scene, choreographed by Robinson himself as he plummets from an insanely-high balcony without an airbag. Robinson used a system of cables of his own design called a decelerator, which allows the camera to shoot him face-on, showing the ground sans airbag behind him.

* It’s too bad this film had so much against it, because Reynolds’ easy charm is actually a good fit for Leonard’s dialogue.

* When Stick’s buddy gets shot he flies backward a solid ten feet into a swimming pool. No, he wasn’t shot by a howitzer.

So, that’s Stick. Like I said, it’s pretty sad. It’s never fun to watch a genuine star on the wane—especially when it’s not through hubris or bad judgment, but because of changing times, and outside forces. Oh well, in hindsight it’s easy to remember that Boogie Nights was a scant fourteen years off…


  1. What about burts pink members only jacket and black eyeliner and pencil mostach

    • Ow. I forgot about that.


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