More than half of Elmore Leonard’s novels have been turned into movies (and more than a few were adapted twice, not to mention television shows based on his work). It is easy to see why. Leonard writes like he’s got a movie in mind. His books are full of actions, his characters well-drawn, and he’s got an ear for dialogue. Sometimes, he’ll break long sections of dialogue down like a script with the character’s name written out at the beginning of each line followed by what they say. He doesn’t spend a lot of time on a character’s inner dialogue or feelings. Whenever I read one of Leonard’s books, I find it incredibly easy to visualize the story as a film in my mind. The question becomes why are so few adaptations of his books any good?
Based upon the Leonard novel of the same name, Stick was directed by and stars Burt Reynolds. It was made in 1985 just as his stardom was starting to take a downturn. It is the very definition of a poor adaptation. The script is a mess, the acting sloppy, and the direction adequate at best. Leonard wrote the original script, which Reynolds shot in its entirety. But when the studio heads saw it, they demanded reshoots and hired Joseph Stinson (who is best known for writing Sudden Impact, the fourth Dirty Harry movie, and only has four movies in his IMDB profile) to rewrite the second half. Reynolds reluctantly did the reshoots, changing the entire second half of the film. Leonard never forgave him for it.
It is always easy to blame the executives when a film this blunders this spectacularly, but honestly, the first half of the film, which basically stayed the same from Reynolds and Leonard’s concept, is no great thing. It isn’t that the direction is terrible, as it’s adequately done, but there is no style, no flair. It tells the story by doing the minimal amount of work required. Early in the film, there is a montage of Reynolds’ character running down a road, swimming in the ocean, and doing a little fishing. The camera lingers on his sweaty, muscular legs; it focuses on his bare chest and body doing physical activity like he’s a Playgirl centerfold. This is Burt Reynolds the superstar directing Burt Reynolds the sex symbol.
He plays Ernest “Stick” Stickley, a car thief/armed robber just out of jail who wants to give up the life and settle down. He meets up with Rainy (Jose Perez), who talks him into running some money with him. The job is simple, take a sack full of drug cash from dealer Chucky (Charles Durning) to Nestor (Castulo Guerra) the supplier. Things go from bad to worse and the deal turns into a hit with Rainy getting gunned down by Moke (Dar Robinson), Chucky’s albino henchman. Stick narrowly escapes and vows revenge.
But first Stick meets Barry (George Segal), a rich guy who gets a kick hanging out with bad dudes (but not too bad because he doesn’t really want to get his hands dirty). It is this section that the film truly feels like an Elmore Leonard novel. Stick meets Barry when he’s locked out of his car. Stick, the former car thief, lends a helping hand and lays down some slick dialogue. Slick is cool and Barry digs it, and it flows in a way only a Leonard story can. Barry hires Stick as his driver, sets him up in his fancy house, and Stick must decide between this new cozy life and getting that revenge.
To make that a tougher decision, Stick meets Kyle (Candice Bergen), Barry’s beautiful financial adviser. She’s calm and cool, and they hit it off immediately. Even though Kyle recognizes Stick probably isn’t right for her, she lets him into her life (or at least her bed) anyways. Though she gets second billing, Candice Bergen is hardly in this thing. Presumably, the studio execs wanted more action than romance and had her mostly written out of the reshoots. That’s too bad because she’s much more interesting than any of the hoods.
As you might have guessed, Stick goes for revenge over comfort which leads to several poorly shot action scenes. The action isn’t so bad; it just isn’t memorable. If you’ve seen any number of the action films Burt Reynolds likes to star in during his prime, then you have pretty much seen what happens here. There is a death-by-scorpions scene, so at least that’s different.
Reynolds directed various television episodes and made-for-TV movies, but this was the last cinematic film he directed until The Last Producer in 2000. In interviews, he says he thoroughly enjoyed the job, but if Stick is any kind of example of his work behind the camera, it is easy to see why he remained an actor. He stills has those good looks and that easy charm, but any those can’t save this dud of an action flick.
Kino Lorber presents Stick with a 1080p transfer and a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Extras include various trailers, a behind-the-scenes/promotional image gallery, and an audio commentary from film critic Nick Pinkerton.