Now think; 1981.
Burt at the height of his fame and his physical presence in front of the camera. Add to that the fact he directs this piece, then add a mediocre script with its heart in roughly the right place, plus Rachel Ward when she was young and very hot, and we have Sharky’s Machine. I can actually remember when Channel 10 (or Channel O way back then) used to tout this as the Sunday Night Movie. Perhaps I’m showing my age or just my recall ability, I dunno. What I do know is that this film was surprisingly better than I was expecting (because I was too young to watch it at the time and telly would have butchered it anyway).
That being said, it had its faults, sure. But as a film it was well shot and rather well made. Perhaps a few gratuitously unnecessary scenes for the body count, but hey, it is an action film...
|"Somehow I get the feeling your rear-end is puckering up..."|
Sergeant Sharky just blew it. One hand on a massive drug bust and it all goes to shit, leaving him with a hostage crisis and a dead bus driver. Booted out of Narcotics he is busted down to the lowest of the low; Vice Squad (personally my favourite department, but it so rarely gets the attention it deserves). First day out, Sharky makes a connection that could mean a big bust for Vice and get him back on top. Following the state Senator, they connect him to crime boss Victor D’Anton through a $1000-a-night hooker. Now Sharky’s ‘Machine’ (his ragtag group of vice cops) starts watching the hooker’s place for info on how to beat Victor. Naturally, there’s a lot of divulging of secrets and relative moments, plus Sharky gets a thing for the hooker.
However, murders start piling up from an unknown assailant who seems intent on getting Victor’s problems out of the way. With the whole trail pointing straight to a crooked cop in the department, can Sharky figure it all out before his whole team gets taken out?
Charles Durning, Bernie Casey and Brian Keith deliver fine performances as the coppers, as does Rachel Ward (in her first film role) as the clichéd hooker-with-a-heart love interest. While the story is a bit thin, there is a hard-edged quality to the film that keeps it interesting. Without using the term ‘film noir’, the film does however explore a couple of darker themes throughout reminiscent of films like The Choir Boys.
It is certainly entertaining, if a little drawn out, with several montages that do try to speed up matters, but even these can’t help cut down on the 117 minute running time. The story just doesn’t have enough content to warrant the length and this may be a turn off for the spoiled modern film viewer.
22 this year, Sharky’s Machine looks pretty darn good on DVD. While containing the almost mandatory film artefacts in most of their guises, there isn’t really anything too distracting. Some outdoor scenes (particularly one rainy night scene) suffer a bit more heavily than others, but overall there isn’t anything too major. We also get some great long shots of 1981 Atlanta, Georgia, in the well preserved 1.85:1 enhanced widescreen panorama.
Colours are great and have stood up to time well, although blacks are slightly off natural looking and shadow detail isn’t so good. Some of the film’s final scenes are hampered a little by too much darkness and no lighting and no detail in the depths. However, the majority of the piece has transferred very well.
Standard Dolby Digital stereo is the fare here and appears mildly unbalanced throughout. Dialogue is a little bit soft spoken (but for the excellent yelling of Charles Durning) while sound effects are overloud. Gunshots, I’m talking about you here, as well as some classic overripe punching stock sound effects.
Dialogue is all clear (with the volume up a notch or two) and there are even some scenes that work very well with the talking removed. Some of those montages mentioned earlier that get loads of info across real quick have been well executed here and I was quite impressed, actually. Music accompanies these, but it seems to be the only part of the film where it stands out. It works well in the ending, but is a rather unmemorable score supervised by Snuff Garrett.
This is a quite tolerable slow burning action film. Without having a great deal of action, some of the gunfights get pretty bloody with claret flying everywhere. No doubt this justified the 1981 ‘R’ rating, but it doesn’t really hold up as strongly by today’s standard. In fact, what was obviously hardcore stuff back then barely raised an eyebrow from this reviewer. Ah, time. It changes everything.
A bit of mostly harmless fun for all, but could have been a better piece with some careful manicuring and removal of perhaps 15 minutes. Still, a fine piece from actor/director Burt Reynolds that looks great for its age and is quite entertaining.