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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Hooper (1978) – Review

This movie is about Sonny Hooper "The Greatest Stuntman Alive" and though this character is fictional he is clearly based on events and people from former stuntman, now turned director, Hal Needham’s life. There have been many movies about the world of filmmaking, and even a few about stuntmen, but Hooper is not so much a movie about stuntmen as it is a love letter to them.


Sonny Hooper (Burt Reynolds) is a veteran stuntman who is entering the twilight of his career as years of being “The Greatest Stuntman Alive” has taken a severe toll on his body. His best friend and fellow stuntie Cully (James Best) is concerned for his Hooper’s health all the while reluctantly feeding him Percocets to ease his pain. His long-time girlfriend Gwen (Sally Field) wants to settle down but hopefully with a non-paralyzed Hooper. New on the scene is a hotshot kid Delmore "Ski" Shidski (Jan-Michael Vincent) who is of the new breed of stuntmen that are replacing the old guard.

Jan-Michael Vincent 
A very handsome and dashing breed.

Now, the paragraph above may make Hooper out to be some kind of an introspective look at one of the most interesting aspects of the film industry, it’s not. Hal Needham and his cronies have got together to a have a blast and show off their skills, and any drama this movie put forth is almost by accident. After the huge success with Smokey and the Bandit Needham and Reynolds almost had carte blanche when it came to their next project, and it shows, as Hooper is basically a collection of stunt gags with barely a plot to hold them together. Watching the film I got the impression that they all were just sitting around a bar asking questions like, “What’s the world’s record for highest freefall without a parachute?

Hooper High Fall 
Damn, that's pretty high.

In Smokey and the Bandit they had the great Jackie Gleason as the main antagonist Sheriff Buford T. Justice and he was brilliant, while in Hooper we have Robert Klein as prima donna director Roger Deal who is a thinly veiled send-up of director Peter Bogdanovich. Sadly, he is neither very funny or all that interesting of a character, nor is his sidekick Tony (Alfie Wise) who is around for the sole purpose of short jokes.

Hooper and dog 
Short people got no reason to live.

At one point an officer from the Humane Society is on set to ensure that a dog will not be used during a high fall stunt. He is reassured that a fake dog will be making the fall with Hooper, but because the fake dog looks terrible Tony tells Hooper to do it with the real one. What is hilarious is that because the makers of Hooper can’t use a real dog Burt Reynolds is seen holding what is clearly a stuffed dog.  Totally ruin the movies “reality.”

The plot, if you can call it a plot, is about a mad director Roger Deal making a huge James Bond type film starring Adam West called The Spy Who Laughed at Danger, and how he keeps upping the stakes to the point where there is a good chance someone is going to die in the process. Will Hooper agree to do the dangerous rocket-car jump for the end of the movie, or will he walk away while he can still walk?

the big jump Hooper 
Yeah, that really was never in question.

The film is chock full of some amazing stunts but for me the truly interesting thing they do here is make the character of Ski likable and not a villainous rival. That Burt Reynolds and Jan-Michael Vincent have better on screen charisma together than Burt has with real-life girlfriend Sally Field in this movie is odd but at least it makes for a better movie. I really wish they’d retire the clichéd disapproving girlfriend that threatens to leave her man unless he quits. It’s certainly not needed in a movie about car chases, bar brawls and explosions.

Adam, I’ll do the stunt if you marry Sally Fields."

Don’t get it wrong, this is a fun film and if you like big action set pieces this movie ends with a doozy, and Burt Reynolds has clearly embraced his charmingly smug persona that made him a star. I just wish that a film directed by a former stuntman would have been a bit more accurate on how stunt work actually functions on set instead of the silly Hollywood version we get here.

 Trivia: The title character "Hooper" is a reference to the name "Hooker" as in Buddy Joe Hooker who is one of the best stuntmen in the business and who also worked on this film. The character of Hooper though is mostly based on the Jock Mahoney, one of the greatest stuntmen of all time and stepfather to Sally Field.

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