“Yeah, even your ding dong.”
Hal Needham was a stunt man. A stuntman who worked on movies like Blazing Saddles, Chinatown and Nickelodeon, before becoming a director. The director of absolute gold like Smokey and the Bandit, Smokey and the Bandit II and Rad. Burt Reynolds was a stunt man. A stuntman who’s charisma transcended almost immediately to make him the star of movies like Smokey and the Bandit, Nickelodeon and almost every car movie worth watching in the late 70s, early 80s. So when these ex stuntmen decided to make a movie about stunt men, you’d better believe that Hooper is the most watchable movie about stunt men you ever did see.
Immediately after pulling off a perfect movie stunt sliding a speeding motorcycle under as moving truck, Sonny Hooper (Reynolds) is urged by his missus, Sally Field as Gwen, to give up his high risk profession. The only problem is, there’s a young buck on the scene. Delmore ‘Ski’ Shidski (Jan-Michael Vincent) is willing to take bigger risks that Hooper has ever contemplated before.
Years earlier, Hooper usurped Gwen’s father (Brian Keith as Jocko) as the stunt king of this movie’s universe, but as Hooper the movie opens, Hooper the man has no interest in the kind of self awareness that would let him acknowledge any kind of insecurity. But as things progress, we get 90 more minutes of more introspective Burt Reynolds than I ever would have thought existed.
What I love most about Hooper is that it’s not a movie about stunt men, it’s a celebration of stunt men. In one of the opening scenes, they spend all day on set performing feats of daring do for the camera, but it’s when the cameras stop rolling that shit really starts to go down. Speeding down the highway, with Hooper in reverse, passing beers between cars, these guys aren’t just chasing cheap thrills for fun, it’s the entire reason they live.
I grew up loving Burt Reynolds. The Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run franchises were constantly in my VCR and I thought he was the epitome of masculine cool. I also now realise that he was the epitome of a late 70s, early 80s masculine cool that doesn’t really exist anymore. I don’t have a problem with modern day action stars like Jason Statham, or Vin Diesel, or the Rock, I just don’t find them anywhere near as interesting, or badass, or just plain cool as Burt Reynolds. And to just discover another Reynolds joint that’s every bit as awesome as Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run, is a great surprise.