Movies We Like
At one time Burt Reynolds was a megastar. By 1987 the shine was thinning, as his hair piece was thickening. Just two years after his arch '70s box office king rival Clint Eastwood made his obligatory quasi-Shane remake Pale Rider (the least of the four Westerns Clint directed), Reynolds did his own less blatant variation of Shane, with an equally simple title: Malone. Updated, instead of an old-timey oater, Malone is more of an '80s muscle film. This could have been a by-the-numbers vehicle for any number of steroidy non-actors of the day; the ace up the sleeve here is the lovely British Columbia backdrop and Reynolds' considerable charm. Even when he seems to be barely trying he’s much more likable then most of the action stars of the period. Back in his salad days (the '70s) Reynolds starred in two bona-fide classics, Deliverance and The Longest Yard, and had a massive box office hit with Smokey and The Bandit. But by the '80s--though Reynolds was still a very popular personality--none of the vehicles really matched his talent. Looking back years later, as the smoke has cleared, Malone is probably his most entertaining film of the decade.
Burt plays Malone, an ex-CIA hitman trying to escape his past (is there any other kind?) and make a break from his sexy handler (Lauren Hutton). After hitting the open road, his car ends up breaking down in a small mountain town where he befriends a clean cut gas station owning family, the Barlows. Father and his teenage daughter (Scott Wilson and Cynthia Gibb) take him in and luckily for them Malone also happens to be handy with a wrench for fixing engines. It turns out Malone happened to show up in the knick of time, as the town is being bought up by a nasty rich guy, Delany ( the alway dependable Cliff Robertson). The Barlows won’t sell, even under pressure from the town’s corrupt cops (lead by Kenneth McMillan) and Delany’s own band of thugs, plus the usual suspects of '80s B-creeps--including many familiar faces such as Tracy Walter (Batman) and Dennis Burkley (the lovable big mute biker from Mask). The bad guys try to exert muscle and Burt kills a couple of them. Shane had that famous tree trunk digging scene, but Burt doesn’t exert much sweat. Although he does get shot, giving Hutton a chance to come back to bandage him up and have a quickie romance before the creeps kill her. This leads to an all out war as Malone is forced to use his considerable killing skills to take out the security team and finally have it out with Delany. And then, very abruptly, it ends. But this was the '80s. Who wanted to sit through a movie much longer then ninety minutes? We had to get to the arcade.
Yeah, okay, Shane it ain’t. It’s total B, even C, material. But as someone who lived through the era, it does hold up better then most of the shoot-em-ups and now proves useful as a historical document to the end of Reynolds' macho days. Health issues were beginning to eat away at his thick frame and his ‘stashe was starting to look painted on to match his hair. Malone wasn’t much of a hit in its day, but it was Reynolds' next film that really sunk him. Rent-a-Cop (co-starring Liza Minnelli) was a super dud and clarified that Burt was no longer A-list for good. He would go on to have a mildly successful run on the small screen (Evening Shade) and even a major comeback in ’97 with Boogie Nights, (including an Oscar nomination) but the goodwill was short-lived, as none of his subsequent films proved memorable. He has since been more successful when having fun spoofing his own persona (providing the voice to a caricature of himself on TV’s animated Archer and other extended cameos) and Burt is always at his best when he can laugh at himself. Compared to many of the action films of the '80s, Malone is comparatively good-natured and less sadistic than say, Stallone’s Cobra, even though it’s very violent. Maybe it’s just the pretty background or Burt’s cocky nature, but for a film that was pretty forgettable in its day, it has left me feeling fully satisfied today.