They sure do not make them like Burt Reynolds anymore, do they? After maxing out being a movie star, and before getting resurrected in the role of a lifetime in BOOGIE NIGHTS (“Jack Horner, filmmaker.”), Reynolds starred in what could and should have been a JOHN WICK-esque action vehicle, MALONE, a very lean and action-packed extravaganza that has a formulaic story with an excellent cast and a magnificently satisfying climax.
In typical Reynolds fashion, he plays a mysterious drifter on the lam from his past, whereby fate, his Mustang (of course) breaks down in some small town and befriends the mechanic and his daughter, and by happenstance uncovers a sinister plot of a deep state takeover. Seriously.
As noted, the ensemble is terrific. Lauren Hutton plays a maturely sexy government assassin sent after Reynolds. She’s either his former protege or lover, but probably both, and in typical style, she’s a total badass in the film, and is a lot of fun; think Dafoe in JOHN WICK. Cliff Robertson’s combover and bronzer perfectly compliment his character, which is one of deep-rooted and misguided “patriotism” who has bred and nurtured a following of homegrown extremists ready to take the government back. Rather timely.
Tracey Walter is a polished redneck goon, and he’s wonderful. A good precursor to his role as Bob in BATMAN. Scott Wilson is the town mechanic, who has backed and stood by Reynolds’ ultra cool and machismo antics, Cynthia Gibb as Wilson’s daughter and Reynolds’ just too young to be his love interest, and the film does a very smooth way of acknowledging that fact. Dennis Burkley, Cliff Gardner, and Kenneth McMillan all play their respective typecast and do it exceptionally well.
The narrative is lean, almost too lean. While the story is very formulaic, which totally works, some of the snappy dialogue gets lost in translation being used on underdeveloped (or undercast) characters. Everything about Reynolds in this film is gold, though. From smoking cigarettes to his alpha vernacular, right down to his rather apparent toupee, it all works so damn well.
The third act is the payoff. After a series of melodramatic events, it comes down to Reynolds versus Robertson and his WASP brotherhood of weekend warriors. And yes, absolutely, this film snap, crackles, and pops into an overly satisfying showdown that is squib city and practical explosions that will set anyone’s chest hair on fire.
The film itself plays it like an “edgy” contemporary tale of a ronin from some old black and white Kurosawa flick (just supplement Toshiro Mifune’s man bun for Reynolds’ toupee), and a western like SHANE (supplementing Alan Ladd’s mustang with a mechanical one). It’s not quite neo-noir, nor is it a time capsule piece of the era either. It just exists, in an almost forgotten yet certainly undervalued way; in a decade that most will bypass or fail to acknowledge.
There is a lot of good stuff from the 80s, and a bounty of those films paved the way for the big budget 90s adult, R rated dramas that are held in such nostalgic fashion in the current era of CGI and regarded thespians rendering themselves into superheroes. There was a time before, there were no boxes to check or poorly dated popular music featured in the film, for it was a time of cigarette smoke and stuntmen and movies that did not get a sequel; MALONE is one of those films.