Perfectly acceptable maloney. M-G-M's own M.O.D. (manufactured on demand) line of hard-to-find library titles, the M-G-M Limited Edition Collection, has released Malone, the 1987 actioner from Orion Pictures starring Burt Reynolds, Cliff Robertson, Lauren Hutton, Cynthia Gibb, Scott Wilson, and Kenneth McMillan. Rather straightforward, with a somber, low-key Reynolds, Malone plays more like TV than the big screen, with various 80s action film cliches intact, but not too overly-done. No extras for this okay transfer.
Covert CIA assassin "Richard Malone" (Burt Reynolds) can't hack it anymore. Sick of killing, he's failed in his last two assignments, and he tells his fellow agent, Jamie (Lauren Hutton), that he wants out of the Agency. Hopping into his sweet, sweet '69 Mustang, Malone heads out west, where he eventually blows his tranny in a beautiful Oregon valley out in the middle of nowhere. Pushing his car to the nearest service station, Malone meets mechanic Paul Barlow (Scott Wilson), and his pretty young daughter, Jo (Cynthia Gibb), who's immediately attracted to the dark, mysterious Malone. Barlow will have to order the parts for Malone's car, so naturally, he invites this complete stranger into his home, where Malone soon learns that outsider Charles Delaney (Cliff Robertson), is pressing hard to buy up the whole valley, including Barlow's place, for some nefarious reason?a reason he's willing to kill for.
I'll never forget watching Smokey and the Bandit in a jam-packed theatre back in 1977 and hearing the absolute roar of laughter when Reynolds first eluded a smokey, and then looked right into the camera and smiled at the audience. It was an electrifying moment, probably the first time I ever experienced the power of that kind of intense audience connection with a performer, and I can't remember experiencing anything quite like it again. A mere ten years after that, I sat in a largely deserted theatre in a crappy, run-down mall and watched a keenly-reduced, haggard-looking Reynolds play out the competent-but-tired antics of the small-scaled Malone, and I marveled at how far he had fallen. By 1987, Reynolds, who had once been the world's most popular movie star for five years straight (a record at the time), had seen his Hollywood cache nosedive sickeningly with a string of critical and/or commercial embarrassments like Rough Cut, Paternity, Stroker Ace (the atrocity for which he turned down career-changer Terms of Endearment), The Man Who Loved Women, Cannonball Run II, City Heat, Stick, and Heat. Malone's meager box office returns and poor reviews didn't exactly help Reynolds' precarious career path, with future disasters like Rent-a-Cop, Switching Channels, Physical Evidence, and Cop and a Half soon relegating him to unthinkable territory ten years earlier: the limited-theatrical-run-straight-to-VHS route with fare like The Maddening.
Watching Malone now, out of that context, it's a straightforward-enough effort, unremarkable in any way that it treats its genre conventions, but also competent enough to enjoy as an agreeable time-waster. You can tell it's a relatively low-budget affair, even for a Reynolds effort at this point in his career, as much by how distinctly sub-par that beaver pelt on his head looks as by the limited set-ups and small cast. Malone was yet another macho head games-questioning effort that seemed to appeal to the self-deprecating Reynolds, but unlike the previous year's Heat (an admirable attempt by Reynolds, with a superior script by William Goldman), Shane knock-off Malone doesn't seem too interested in explaining why tough-guy Burt is tired of being a tough-guy. Why is CIA assassin Burt fed up with killing? We're never really told. The opening sequence sees him fail to waste some guy with a sniper's bullet, followed by Burt simply telling friend/agent Hutton he's out (this scene lasts an unsatisfactory 30 seconds or so?like bad TV). Later on, there are one or two veiled mentions of Malone's previous covert activities, but nothing concrete, and certainly nothing about why he's chucking it all in now. We have to guess...and our guess is pretty stock. Reynolds, looking fit but somehow worn out, keeps his usual shtick to a minimum...which would have been fine had the movie turned out better, but which actually works against Malone in the end: an over-the-top Burt might have injected a little zip into the proceedings.
Malone's biggest problem, though, is Robertson's villain. Critically, we're never given a handle on what exactly he's up to here. It's suggested in Christopher Frank's screenplay (based on William Wingate's novel, Shotgun) that Robertson might be a super-reactionary patriot, plotting, somehow, someway, to overthrow something, or that he's perhaps a white supremist (he says the phrase, "pure race" at one point), but frustratingly, nothing is spelled out. We don't get a game plan for what he's attempting; we don't even know what his little headquarters is for, or who, exactly is on his side. And obviously, if we don't know what he's up to, we really don't care if Reynolds zaps him or not. And that reduces Malone's action scenes to just that: action without any real thought or involvement behind them. The action scenes are entertaining, though, in that instantly recognizable 80s fashion, with some fun sequences like Reynolds kicking Dennis Burkley's ass (effective make-up job there), or bluffing squirrelly Tracey Walter before blowing a hole the size of a tree trunk in him, or the final showdown that looks like every other final showdown in an 80s' shoot-'em-up. Director Harley Cokliss (Black Moon Rising) knows how to stage a fight, and he keeps the frames clean and uncluttered during the well-edited sequences. It's just too bad a little more care didn't go into this potentially enticing project.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.