Burt Hides Hurt as Super Hooper
Burt Reynolds and director Hal Needham made 6 movies together starting with "Smokey and the Bandit" in 1977 and ending with "Cannonball Run II" in 1984 and to start with the movies worked. But in a way Reynolds fell victim to what I call the Elvis Presley syndrome where the movies he was given ended up being about the Reynolds persona more than anything else and they weren't good. Fortunately before these bad movies arrived he made "Hooper" with Needham, a homage to the stuntman which whilst slim on storyline it did what it set out to do and that is not only deliver the tough life of the stuntman but also give us plenty of set piece stunts and humour.
For twenty years Sonny Hooper (Burt Reynolds - The Dukes of Hazzard) has been the top stuntman and his body shows the scars and he feels the aches of a career of dangerous stunts and hard living. But with up and coming stuntman Ski (Jan-Michael Vincent - The Undefeated) starting to garner praise it is time for Sonny to consider carefully whether it is time to call it a day even though he is still one of only a few stunt men capable of doing the biggest of stunts.
I'm not going to lie and say that "Hooper" has the best of storylines, in fact it often feels like a disjointed series of set pieces like many of Reynolds' movies at the end of the 70s and start of the 80s but in the midst of all the set pieces it does have a simple storyline. That storyline is also reasonably true to life as through a mix of comedy and action we come to understand the toll on Hooper's body after years of stunts and how as he grows older the need for pain relief becomes more frequent. Throw into the mixed the subplot surrounding an up and coming stuntman ready to take over whilst his loved one Gwen fearing the worst and you do have the basis of a movie about the life of a stuntman.
But whilst you have this slim storyline which pays homage to the many stuntmen who risk their lives the focus is on the gags and set pieces. So we have the stunts be it a motorbike crash, a high fall with a dog or a stupidly large car jump all of which are interlaced with humour be it Hooper and the director not getting on or having a laugh with other stuntmen as they tear up the place. It is all very typical but from brawls to Burt Reynolds and James Best mimicking old movie stars it is full of laughs. And whilst for at least the first half it feels more like a series of set pieces the second half does pay more attention to the actual story.
Now whilst Burt Reynolds is the star and turns in a typical humorous Burt Reynolds performance with the occasional glance towards the camera part of the pleasure of "Hooper" is in his co-stars. Again we see Reynolds with Sally Field and they did make a great onscreen couple but then you have Brian Keith doing a nice turn as an old stuntman and father figure whilst James Best delivers countless laughs as a slapstick buddy. And whilst Jan-Michael Vincent has the unenviable task of playing it straight in the midst of a lot of comedy he does work well with Reynolds.
The thing about "Hooper" is watching it now, over 30 years after it was released, you realise what modern cinema lacks, real stunts. Watching the excess of cars flying through the air, people falling from heights and so much more makes all the CGI enhanced action of now look so inferior. And as such you also appreciate the skill of the stuntmen for not only pulling off these crazy stunts but also making everyone of them exciting.
What this all boils down to is that "Hooper" is another one of Burt Reynolds good movies which may have that feel of being a set piece driven movie also features a worth while story. And whilst it is over 30 years old "Hooper" is still seriously entertaining thanks to the wonderful mix of comedy and action which makes many modern movies look so inferior.