Review: Malone (1987)

Malone

Directed by Harley Cokeliss
Starring Burt Reynolds, Cliff Robertson, Cynthia Gibb, Scott Wilson, Lauren Hutton

Up until the day they moved out of their tiny two-story farmhouse, my grandparents kept an impressive collection of VHS tapes stuffed into every living room shelf and stacked precariously on every step of their narrow staircase. Being the nerdy, outdoors-averse kid that I was, I often stayed indoors while my family went fishing and crawled up and down the stairwell, reading plot synopses of every movie my grandfather owned. Some of the tapes were old Maxell and TDK “recordable videocassettes” with the names of movies jotted in ballpoint on their white affixable labels, prompting me to fill in my own stories to match the titles. While a few of the selections were real B-movie direct-to-video drek starring barely-recognizable stars, more often than not the movies held within the black plastic boxes were bona fide action classics.

Malone sat on a shelf in their living room and probably went untouched for years before it caught my eye one afternoon. The VHS box art is gloriously ridiculous: Burt Reynolds standing in front of a lake of fire, blasting a sawed-off shotgun into the unknown. I was instantly fascinated. I called my brothers into the room, slid the tape into the VCR, and pressed PLAY.

The Malone I remember is much different than the Malone that actually exists. In my memory, the movie is a nonstop, slam-bang thrillride of macho posturing, killer one-liners, and exploding bad guys. In truth, Malone is a rather sedate – almost languid – action flick. Nobody gets capped until about halfway through, and the real carnage doesn’t begin until the last 20 minutes. Time is given to characterization and set-up. Malone (Reynolds) is an ex-hitman trying to escape his former life (“Nobody just walks away,” he’s told. “Watch me,” he says.) and Charles Delaney (Robertson) is a crazed businessman forcing the inhabitants of a small Oregon town to sell him their property or die trying to keep it. The two are placed within each other’s crosshairs when Malone’s car breaks down just outside town and he takes up residence with mechanic Paul Barlow (Wilson) and his teenage daughter, Jo (Gibb) waiting for parts to arrive.

The screenwriter gets a lot of mileage out of the difference in age between Malone and Jo. Right from the start, Jo takes an unhealthy interest in Malone, who is obviously about 30 years her senior. In 1987, Cynthia Gibb was just about the most adorable person on earth, and her character’s intense attraction to Burt Reynold’s wrinkled visage is worrisome at best. Every time the two are placed onscreen together, I find myself uttering “MALONE, NO” to Burt Reynolds’ pube-topped head. But what surprises me here is that the two characters keep the relationship at arms’ length. There’s a palpable chemistry between Gibb and Reynolds, a chemistry that offers viewers a much different romantic subplot than what was expected at the time. While the movie could have nose-dived into sleaze at any given moment, the eroticism is limited to Gibb tugging gently at the collar of her nightgown. The two characters know better, and the chemistry between them is all the more intense because of it.

Of course, this being an ’80s action movie, intercourse needs to occur at some point. This is where Lauren Hutton comes in. And even here, the director makes an interesting choice: Their sexual encounters aren’t romanticized in the least. They’re just two middle-aged assassins killing time in the Oregon countryside. They enjoy each other’s company. That’s it.

But have no fear – Malone keeps a shotgun hidden in the body of his car, and he eventually gets to blow up some spinal columns with it. Sadly, the action scenes are where the movie falters. Violent encounters are sometimes poorly edited and confusingly composed. A fistfight on a bridge looks almost amateurish, with clumsy head-on shots of the two combatants getting their noses flattened and their ears boxed. This is the stuff I remember from my first viewing. The cheeseball one-liners and the blood-soaked shootouts. Malone beats the shit out of a 300-pound goon and mutters “Anyone else?” Later, that goon’s brother approaches Malone, gun raised, and says, “That was my brother you almost killed. You know he can’t have children now?” Malone, without even looking up, offers “That could be a blessing.” The badass quotient is dialed up to ten whenever Malone says anything. And when he uses his gun on someone, Malone doesn’t just shoot them – he explodes them. It appears the special-effects team was a little overanxious about using squibs.

Malone is a true artifact of its time. Unlike action stars of today, who are always at peak physical perfection for the camera, Burt Reynolds (pretty much a washed-up has-been by 1987) has a protruding stomach and saggy jowls. He moves with the swagger of an older man. True to ’80s “guy” movies, there are about three women with speaking roles and all of them want to polish Malone’s knob. Cliff Robertson, very poorly miscast as the principal baddie, wears the most confusing outfits I’ve ever seen, matching giant white belts with single-color jumpsuits. His hair looks like it did a murder and is unsuccessfully trying to lay low. Robertson looks much too intelligent to portray such a single-minded, right-winged maniac, and his menacing monologues are flaccid and flavorless.

By no means is Malone a good movie. The action setpieces are poorly executed and rather laughable, contrasting harshly with the thoughtfulness presented in the first 40 minutes. But honestly? I enjoyed every little bit of this stupid movie. I took pleasure in every lame line of dialogue and found solace in every moment of peaceful cool-guy calm. I cheered whenever Burt Reynolds dispatched a bad guy.

To me, it will simply always be that incredible cardboard VHS box: Burt Reynolds, gunshot wound and all, blasting away at bad guys, his face frozen in an expression of ultimate machismo.

You got a first name?” Jo asks.

Yeah,” he replies.

Calm. Cool. Collected.

Malone.

Links:

Amazon – Malone DVD
Amazon – Malone VHS
Netflix – Malone
YouTube – Complete Film
YouTube – Home Video Trailer

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