Stick (Burt Reynolds) is a veteran car thief who has just gotten out of prison. No sooner has Stick arrived home in Florida then he accompanies his friend, Rainy (Jose Perez), on a drug deal that goes bad. When Rainy is killed, Stick goes into hiding. He manages to get a stable job, working as a chauffeur for an eccentric millionaire (George Segal). He gets a new girlfriend (Candice Bergen) and starts to bond with his teenage daughter (Tricia Leigh Fisher). Stick wants to go straight but, before he can, he knows that he has to confront the men who murdered Rainy.
Stick starts out strong. The first half of the film finds Burt, who was often as underrated as a director as he was as an actor, in pure Sharky’s Machine mode, mixing the steamy Florida atmosphere with quirky character comedy and hardboiled action. Adapting his own novel, Elmore Leonard wrote the screenplay and Stick seems like a classic Leonard hero, a criminal with his own moral code.
But then Stick falls apart during the second half and it becomes obvious why both Reynolds and Leonard often cited this film as being one of the biggest disappointments of their careers. Universal Studios disliked Burt’s first cut of the film and brought in a second screenwriter, who beefed up the action scenes and added the subplot with Stick’s teenage daughter. Reynolds reshot the second half of the movie, no longer playing Stick as a tough criminal but instead as another variation on the Bandit. The end result is a very disjointed movie, with Burt looking bored.
It does not help that the movie’s main villain is played by Charles Durning, who wears an orange fright wig and several Hawaiian shirts. Durning was an actor who gave many great performances but never was he as miscast as when he played a drug dealer in Stick.