Director: Burt Reynolds
USA - 1981
And here I was thinking that this was going to be a depiction of Reynolds stance on
the labor movement.
Burt Reynolds plays Sharky.
A Vice cop. A good cop. A tough cop. A cop on the edge. Come to think about it, a vast
majority of movie cops are on the aforementioned edge. What's the deal? For once I would
like to see a cop who follows the rules, is happy with his job, and listens attentively to
his superiors. Whimsical thinking, I'm sure. Anyway, regaining focus, Burt plays a cop on
the edge. He doesn't play by the rules, doesn't like his job, and continuously ticks off
his boss. He has a reputation for being a real tough cookie; that is, until his new
assignment has Sharky staking out a high-priced hooker by the name of Dominoe. Burt,
unexpectedly, falls in love. And when the bad guys attempt to assassinate Sharkys
harlot, the situation, in turn, becomes a little more personal.
Vittorio Gassman plays Victor. The bad guy. Crime boss; pimp; child solicitor on the
black market; corrupter of a good portion of the police force. You know, all that evil kinda stuff. Essentially, an
all-around neer-do-well. He also, apparently, has little-to-no motivation for his
nefarious deeds. Oh well, exposition is overrated anyway. And hes also kind of
greasy looking, too.
Rachel Ward plays Dominoe. A high-priced hooker (with a heart of gold, naturally).
Falls into an inevitable tryst with Sharky. Has enough insider information to put the
seemingly invincible Victor behind bars for life. Becomes the target of Victors
hitmen, and the object of Sharkys affection.
Henry Silva plays Billy Score. Victor's crony. A professional hitman; almost
unstoppable with a gun. His Achilles Heel being a notorious drug habit. And he
whines a bit, too. Ordered to kill Dominoe, but fails in a "surprising" plot
Bernie Casey plays Arch. Another Vice cop who is both good and tough. He may also be
slightly on the edge, but not quite as on the edge as Burt. He's also in touch with his
spiritual side - practicing both vegetarianism and Zen. Acts as a comic foil to Papa.
Casey puts in a good performance, and doesnt deserve to be in this film.
Brian Keith plays Papa. Yet another good, tough Vice cop; and approximately third in
line when it comes to being on the aforementioned edge. He likes junk food, profanity, and
things of a more raucous nature. Plays Goofus to Arch's Gallant. Killed at the end by
Billy Score, thus making Sharky's vendetta even more personal.
Earl Holliman plays Hotchkins. A slimy politician running for Governor. He is also in
love (or perhaps just infatuated) with Dominoe, and wants to take her away from the pain
of having to sell her body. He is also one of Victor's cronies. Hotchkins has little to do
with the film, but is featured prominently throughout.
Charles Durning plays Friscoe. The requisite angry
police chief. Has two years until he retires, but surprisingly, doesn't die. Easily
ticked-off by Sharky (and everyone else, for that matter), and is in dire need of an
interpreter. I'm serious, when Durning got his engine revving, I was nearly begging for
some subtitles. His constant screaming was almost completely incoherent.
Diana Szlosberg plays the Girl with a Kitten. Shell be the one with in possession
of a feline. Be sure to look out for her.
I dont know about you, but whenever I sit down to a Burt Reynolds film, I
am filled with almost giddy anticipation with the thought of making as many lame Burt
Reynolds jokes as humanly possible - The Cannonball Run (and all its
sequels), City Heat, Rent-A-Cop, Stick all prime candidates
for cheap joke fodder. With Burt Reynolds as the target of your ridicule, and just a
little (very little) imagination, the possibilities are just about infinite. But sadly,
once again, my diabolical plan was foiled. Sharkys Machine turned out to be
somewhat decent. Not great, by any stretch of the imagination,
but decent enough in its own right.
The film starts off as a fairly taut, gritty police drama. Typical stuff the cop
that doesnt go by the rules, the perpetually irate police chief but its
done fairly well. Burt is believable as the titular Sharky - not quite the tough-as-nails
Dirty Harry, but hes no Deputy Cletus, either.
Things start off with a literal bang a drug deal gone wrong, a bad guy with an
incredibly big gun, a busful of hostages (one of them being pregnant, naturally)
all the makings of a good (albeit brainless) action movie. But after a promising
beginning, the film seems to lose course; the plot becomes a little too intricate for its
own good (in other words, convoluted), the action scenes become few and far between, and
Burt loses his edgy cop schtick and becomes a wuss.
Hey now, Im all for mushy love angles intended to give the tough guy cop a little
depth, but not with the strain of budding romance thats featured in this film. As
mentioned before, Burt stakes out a hooker. Over a course of several days, Burt becomes
infatuated with said hooker. Ok, so far, Im still buying it. Finally, Burt meets the hooker, takes her back to his pad to
hide out from the bad guys, and the next day (literally) they are in love. Did I miss
something? Was there some elusive spark that transpired while I blinked? Perhaps this
progression can be attributed to Dominoes discovery of a collage of surveillance
photos, taken during Burts stakeout, hanging on Sharkys bedroom wall. (Am I
the only one who finds that a bit creepy?) Maybe it was due to the altercation between
Burt and Dominoe where she ends up biting him, and he, in turn, gives her a good wallop
upside the head. Nothing like a little domestic abuse to set the mood, right? Or perhaps
Dominoe realized she had met Mr. Right after seeing the cheesy flower Burt whittled onto
the wall in her honor. I mean, really now. Its just damn silly.
I understand the fact that they have only have two hours to provide the romantic
exposition but there has to be more
effective ways of handling it than this. I dont know, how about one of those popular
musical interludes? It can show Burt and Dominoe frolicking around the park together -
picking flowers, playing stickball with the neighborhood kids, sharing an ice cream cone
you know, crap like that. They can even score the piece with a romantic ditty like,
say, "The Best That You Can Do" by Christopher Cross. Now thats
But in Burts defense, he does, eventually, regress and become the initial bad-ass
towards the films finale. This is definitely a good thing, because the ridiculously
lengthy stakeout scenario drags the films pacing almost to a dead stop.
Now, as far as the convoluted plot goes, my biggest problem was the fact that by the
end of Sharkys Machine I still didnt understand the bad guys
motivation. Ok, so Victor was a big-time crime boss - check. He was so big he even had
some of the police on his payroll check. Governor-Elect Hotchkins was basically his puppet check. But what else
is there? Sharky investigates Dominoe to verify a lead he obtains about a possible
connection between her and Hotchkins, but what does this have to do with Victor attempting
to assassinate her? Why does he suddenly want to kill his most prized streetwalker? Ok, I
understand that Victor buys and sells young girls on the black market, but what does that
have to with Hotchkins? And finally, they make up Billy Score to be some kind of an
unstoppable killer but at the end, he turns out to be merely a sniveling drug
addict with, again, no motivation, no character development, and little sense of
purpose. Not only that, but Score seems to play a prominent role in the
beginning, only to disappear in the middle, then inconsequentially reappear at the end.
Whats up with that?
So, essentially, on the rare occasion when the ball is rolling, Sharkys
Machine is fairly good; but when the gears start to slow down, you can almost
guarantee that theyre gonna stop. Thats when the troubles start. Hard to pay
attention. Eyes starting to close. Mind starting to drift. Room getting hazy.
In other words, good action bad storytelling.
Burt, stick to your Cannonball Run franchise.
No, strike that.
- During his stakeout on Dominoe, Burt realizes that he is, in fact, deeply in love
with the prostitute. In one touching scene, Burt watches on as Dominoe begins to
"entertain" one of her regular johns. Just as she is about to
we cut back to Burt as he bursts into tears. That
scene alone made my heart jump. Or maybe that was my lunch.
- Unexpected ninja combat!
Burt Reynolds, King of the Tough Guy One-Liners: "Somehow I get the
feeling that your rear-end is puckering up." Man, does that provoke some rather vivid
mental images, or what?
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-- Copyright © 2000 by J. Bannerman