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Bargain Bin

by Shawn Stone on April 4, 2012

I was going to call this edition of the cutout column “Bargain Burt,” as it features two 1970s vehicles for then-superstar Burt Reynolds. But that wouldn’t be fair to Reynolds’ costar in both comedies, Jill Clayburgh.

1977’s Semi-Tough (MGM) is based on a novel by sportswriter Dan Jenkins, and is centered on the off-screen hijinx of an unnamed Texas team’s star quarterback (Reynolds) and wide receiver (Kris Kristofferson), and their just-barely-platonic relationship with the team owner’s daughter (Clayburgh, delightful as a sophisticated “good old girl”). The professional football setting and game excerpts are unconvincing, but the off-the-field carousing rings true enough. Even better is a subplot involving a self-help cult that peddles a kind of willful vapidity, and which embodies certain tendencies of the so-called “me decade.” This material gives director Michael Ritchie (Smile, The Bad News Bears) rich opportunities for social satire.

Reynolds had a way of slouching through movies he wasn’t very interested in, or getting by on his looks and charm; he’s guilty of some of that in Semi-Tough, but not enough to sink the movie. In contrast, he’s on his very best behavior in Starting Over (Paramount). Under the direction of Alan J. Pakula (All The President’s Men), and working at a slower pace than was usual for him, Reynolds is very good. And so are his costars, Clayburgh and Candice Bergen. The problem is in the script by producer James L. Brooks. The skills that made his TV work succeed (Taxi, Cheers) fail—as they often do—on the big screen. Bergen does well as an early version of Brooks’ standard, nightmarish female antagonist, but not well enough to overcome the essential misogyny.

Both DVDs cost $3 or less at local retail outlets.