Sharky’s Machine (1981)
Director: Burt Reynolds
Warner Brothers Home Video
For a movie star with 143 films listed on IMDB, Burt Reynolds was in surprisingly few good movies. An obvious high point is Deliverance (1972). If you include Smokey and the Bandit (1977), that’s two. I’d make it three to include Boogie Nights (1997). Despite being an excellent performance, it was an opportunity as a turning point into a second act in his career. But Mr. Reynolds hated the movie and denounced the role. He left his lo-brow, sleazy producer with a good heart persona behind, which for my money, had tread left. If you look at the rest of his career, he was in some pretty bad movies. However, there’s a gem in the mud for me: Sharky’s Machine. Reynolds delivers as both an actor and a director this noir-inspired thriller that succeeds fusing a common Mickey Spillane-inspired cop drama with Ninjas, a government conspiracy, and a hit man portrayed by the intense Henry Silva who values PCP as much as his shotgun.
Tom Sharky (Burt Reynolds) is a tough cop demoted from narcotics to the vice squad after he is blamed for a drug deal gone wrong. The vice squad seems to be a haven for misunderstood good guys as Sharky’s buddies all operate above their forced position on the police force. His “machine” includes Papa (Brian Keith), an older cop keeping his head down in the vice squad until he retires, but capable of inspiring the gang to get involved in a case that’s above their head, Arch (Bernie Casey) a laid back Zen master who comes in with wisdom as the plot requires, Nosh (Richard Libertini) a smarter-than-all-this tech who’ll begrudgingly get his hands dirty, and a frustrated police chief played by Charles Durning.
Sadly, there’s not much in the way of female empowerment. Most of the women in the movie are hookers and exist in the short and long term only to be saved by our mustachioed hero. There’s a scene where Sharky interacts with a partner’s young daughter, but that only seems to be shoved in to indicate that he’s capable of not killing something. But the movie is good as an old fashioned shoot-em-up and manages not to offend directly. It might sound too much like a refuge for clichés, but the cast sells it. They play their roles aware of what they’re involved in and each one of them helps to sell the ensemble as a solid group of flatfoot misfits working together. Reynolds is at the helm, both in the film and behind the camera, but steps aside enough in both duties to leave room for the rest of the cast. Reynold’s signature good ‘ole boy arrogance takes a back seat playing Sharky’s flaws with grace. And the plot has enough twists to keep it afloat.
Sharky’s Machine is an engaging action movie. It also still holds a world record for Stuntman Dar Robinson’s 220-foot wireless jump. If you enjoy flawed cop narratives, it’s a cut above the standard.
Memorable line: “Somehow I get the feeling that your rear end is puckering up.”
Memorable speech to a bad guy: “I’m gonna pull the chain on you pal. And you wanna know why? Cause you’re fucking up my city. ‘Cause you’re walking all over people like you own them. And you wanna know the worst part: you’re from out of state.”
***Hot tip for record people: The soundtrack is often found in dollar bins and includes an excellent version of the The Crusaders’ “Street Life” not found elsewhere.