Looking back on the career of Burt Reynolds, who for five consecutive years (1978 – 1982) was the world’s number one box office attraction, it’s hard not to remember Peter O’Toole’s famous line from My Favorite Year: “I’m not an actor, I’m a movie star!”
Reynolds’ graduation to Hollywood’s A list, after 15 years of toiling in low budget action movies and TV guest spots, came as a result of his engaging appearances on TV talk shows. But while that charmingly roguish persona lent itself to box office hits like Smoky and the Bandit and The Cannonball Run, it was also a trap. Reynolds seldom found (or accepted) roles that would expand his range, and the ones that might have (like his turn as a burglar in the John Sayles-scripted Breaking In) went largely unseen.
In 2018, Reynolds sat for a filmed interview with filmmaker Rick Pamplin, to be used as part of a documentary about independent filmmakers and financing. (It’s a subject about which Reynolds at various points says he has no expertise, so why he agreed to it is a bit of a mystery.) What was expected to be a fifteen minute interview went on for close to an hour. A few months later, while studying lines for a role in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Reynolds died of a heart attack.
Pamplin decided to take the footage he had and turn it into this feature film. He presents the entire 53 minute interview with no edits or cutaways. That was not a good idea. While there are bits of the dry humor that made Reynolds a star in the first place, there isn’t all that much substance to be found here. Pamplin apparently wasn’t expecting his subject to sit for as long as he did, and doesn’t have many interesting questions to ask.
It would have been more of a service to the late star, who is still widely beloved, to have trimmed his responses rather than let him ramble on. The worst moment is when Reynolds, giving an amusing assessment of his friend Charlton Heston, speaks of having been with him “the other day”: Heston died in 2008. The 82-year-old Reynolds, clearly not in the best health, can certainly be forgiven lapses like these, but it would have been better not to have presented them in the first place.
Nearly half of the feature’s 100 minute running time is padded out with tributes from people who worked with Reynolds at his Florida dinner theater, which also functioned as a school for young actors. These are undeniably heartfelt and open up a side of the star’s career that many may not have known about, but they go on for far too long. Similarly, a conversation with Quentin Tarantino about Reynolds is little more than a good DVD bonus feature.