The next time you are wandering around Target, you may notice an end-cap of discounted DVD titles for $5. Most of these titles are dreck and are unworthy of even that small tariff. However, if the stars align for you as they did for me, you may find a gem amongst the dross. I am of course referring to “Hooper,” the 1978 Burt Reynolds vehicle concerning the life of Sonny Hooper, an aging Hollywood stuntman.
This virtues of this movie are legion. Rather than go into some lengthy examination, I will list them in bullet-point form so as to aid in their digestion. So, here are the things that make “Hooper” awesome and well worth your hard-earned $5:
*The movie poster, which they were wise enough to use as the DVD cover, has an illustration of Burt blowing a bubble with some gum while wearing a big cowboy hat (see above).
*The movie is not only about stuntmen, but was directed by a stuntman (Hal Needham, the auteur also responsible for “Cannonball Run” and “Megaforce.”)
*It has Adam West with a moustache (he is the “star” Burt is stunting for during the filming of “The Spy Who Laughed At Danger.”).
*There is a scene wherein a horse drinks a can of beer. Burt then kisses said horse.
*Burt has trained his beer-drinking horse to crap on command, and he urges it to do so in the car of someone he is at odds with. This was big in 1978 cinema, as Clyde the orangutan in Clint Eastwood’s Philo Beddoe epics “Every Which Way But Loose” and “Any Which Way You Can” had a penchant for crapping in vehicles as well.
*There is a lengthy scene ( a ‘set piece’, as they call it in the biz) where everyone heads to a bar and drives along a highway drinking copious amounts of beer in broad daylight, heedless of their own safety or that of others. One even drives backwards at high speeds while drinking. When a highway patrolman on a motorcycle simply attempts to do his job and enforce the law, they attach a cable to his bike and then to a pole, which sends him sprawling. They escape punishment for this act as well.
*The stuntmen engage in a barroom brawl with a gang of large rednecks led by Terry Bradshaw, completely destroying their friend’s bar in the process.
*The rednecks are then befriended, as is moviedom’s custom, and everyone repairs to Burt’s ranch where, after a long night of partying, Burt is the lone man standing. As the other revelers slumber around him, he watches a home movie reel of his prior stunts. In a meta-scene of epic proportions, the home movie contains footage of Burt tackling the rapids in a canoe from “Deliverance.”
*Most of the stunts featured in the movie within the movie make no sense at all, no matter what the context. In one, Burt escapes from some villains chasing him by getting into a helicopter. The helicopter then goes straight up into the air and hovers, at which point Burt leaps out the helicopter and falls. As Hooper, he falls onto an airbag and sets the world record for the longest free fall drop. Bully for Hooper - but how does this makes any sense in a movie about a spy? The character would simply be splattered on the pavement. They repeat this nonsense in a scene where Burt rescues a dog (?) and attempts to flee between rooftops via a tracked cable of some sort. He makes it halfway across, then falls when the cable snaps. Again, this makes no sense for a lead character in a spy film.
*Brian Keith and Jan-Michael Vincent co-star as fellow stuntmen. Brian Keith is Jocko, the old retired stuntman, and Jan-Michael is the young upstart (they call him “The Kid”) looking to seize Burt’s crown.
*The movie was the inspiration for the Lee Major’s television series “The Fall Guy,” for which it deserves our eternal gratitude.
*The big stunt during the finale involves Burt and Jan-Michael driving a car around some type of industrial village that is being blown to smithereens, and when the bridge over a ravine collapses, they have to jump it in a custom-made rocket car, thus setting another stunt man record for longest jump. Sonny celebrates this by punching the film within a film’s director in the face before heading off to presumably drink more canned beer.
*Naturally, the movie has a blooper reel playing over the end credits. They take this up a notch by having a banjo-fueled song called "Nothin' Like the Life (Of A Hollywood Stuntman) playing as well.
There you go – although I’m certain I left out many laudable moments. I didn’t even scratch the surface of Sonny Hooper’s painkiller addiction, the possibility of his paralysis, and Sally Field bouncing around in tight t-shirts. In short, I wholeheartedly encourage you to run, don’t walk, and get your $5 copy of “Hooper” now.