Hooper (1978) / Comedy-Action
MPAA Rated: PG for some violence and language
Running time: 97 min.
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Jan-Michael Vincent, Sally Field, Brian Keith, John Marley, Robert Klein, James Best, Adam West, Alfie Wise, Terry Bradshaw
Director: Hal Needham
Screenplay: Bill Kerby, Thomas Rickman
Review published May 10, 2005
Hooper is a fan favorite film meant almost exclusively for fans of Burt Reynolds (Smokey and the Bandit, The Cannonball Run) and the down-home country boy humor he was known for in the late 1970s. Most of the films he did were full of grandiose stunts, many directed by Hal Needham (Smokey and the Bandit II, Cannonball Run II), a former stunt coordinator himself, so making a film surrounding the life of a stunt man would seem like a very natural fit. Coming shortly after Reynolds breakthrough film that would make him a superstar, Smokey and the Bandit, the formula had already been set. Make Reynolds an irreverent bad boy, give him Sally Field (Legally Blonde 2) as a girlfriend, fill up the remaining cast with colorful country bumpkin talents like James Best ("The Dukes of Hazzard") and Terry Bradshaw, and make sure the men do Southern things like drink Coors, get in fistfights, and listen to country music whenever possible.
Reynolds plays a legendary stun man known as Sonny Hooper, who remains one of the top men in his field, but due to too many stressful impacts to the spine and the need to pop pain killers several times a day, he knows he should get out of the industry before he ends up permanently disabled. His latest film sees Hooper as the stunt coordinator for a James Bond-like movie directed by an overly ambitious director, Roger Deal (Robert Klein, People I Know), and for which he has continued to stunt double for Adam West, the film's main star. Jan-Michael Vincent (White Line Fever, Buffalo '66) plays Ski Chinski, a new breed of stunt man that takes his job much more seriously, using technology to assist in his craft, measuring the physics of everything before risking his neck for the stunt. As the film winds down to a close, Hooper wants to finish the film, and his career, with one last stunt that will keep him in the money long after retirement, but the question is whether or not his body will endure the impact, if he even survives at all.
Hooper is mostly carried on the charisma of Reynolds himself, and as with most star vehicles that rely heavily on personality, your mileage may vary as to how much of Reynolds' shtick you find appealing. Needless to say, I like Burt in this film, although I don't see it as any different than the Bandit, especially in his sense of humor and get-even strategy with anyone in authority that tries to bend his will. He takes command of the screen and the rest of the cast follow his lead, adlibbing much of the humor and quirky personality traits for each character. Robert Klein should get special mention for a nice portrayal of the egotistical director, and Jan-Michael Vincent also shines in a subdued performance that casts him as a rival, but never in an obvious way.
Hooper is not very plot heavy, and does have a mindlessness about it that may not make it appealing to viewers who need a forward moving story at all times. Like many films made around this period, there is a slice-of-life attitude, showing you the ups and down of the work place, never really in a hurry to get to the main point. For those who have always wondered what it might be like to be a stunt man, and of the preparation and danger involved, Hooper is often quite fascinating in its own modest way.
Hooper is an often funny and entertaining vehicle for Burt, so if you like him, chances are you'll like this movie, and the opposite if you don't. There is a bit of drama thrown in toward the last third of the movie that drags the film down a bit, but it quickly picks up once the big stunt is underway. It's also one of the few Burt Reynolds comedies without Dom De Luise, which is probably the reason the silliness factor was kept in check through most of it. Still, the cast seems like they enjoyed making the film, and we enjoy seeing them having fun in turn.
©2005 Vince Leo