|Burt Reynolds in "Heat"|
Dear Burt Reynolds,
I feel compelled to write this letter because I've been a fan of yours for about 20 years. And the past 10 years, Burt, haven't been very pleasant. But I'm hanging in there, hoping for a respite from the drudgery you've been releasing. And I realize I'll be waiting a little longer, because your new film, "Heat," isn't exactly a redemptive effort.
Still, it's good to see you back in front of the cameras. You've been gone from the screen for two years, ever since "Stick" bombed in 1985. It may have been smart to duck and cover for a while. After all, you've made only two marginally good films -- "Paternity" and "Best Friends" -- since the fantastic "Starting Over" in 1979.
"Heat" is a move in the right direction, yet it, too, has serious flaws. The Nick Escalante character you play is an interesting man, an ex-mercenary who hires himself out as a bodyguard for high-rolling gamblers on the Las Vegas strip. You give Nick some depth and a few foibles, but William Goldman's script is abysmally boring and always predictable. Once Nick runs afoul of a mobster's son, we can see the final confrontation and ensuing shoot-out coming from a mile away.
The most troubling thing about your career, Burt, is that unlike other actors of your generation -- including Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Warren Beatty, Robert Duvall, Jon Voight and Jack Nicholson -- you've digressed to the point of being the industry's biggest joke.
You forged your reputation as a man's man in films like "Deliverance," "White Lightning" and "The Longest Yard." It was good, solid work for the most part; your performance in "Deliverance" was inspired. But you stayed in the rut and didn't try to stretch, to show us what you were really capable of doing. Movies like "Rough Cut" and "Semi-Tough" were pitiful, and your one decent performance of that era came in a B-movie called "Hustle."
It must have appeared to you as if both the industry and the moviegoing public didn't care to see you in anything but action films, but some of us did. By ignoring that small segment of the population and positive critical reaction to your risk-taking films, you were to the late 1970s what Sylvester Stallone is to the 1980s.
Then came "Starting Over," which boasted your best film performance. It displayed a maturity and ease that you'd never shown before. Critics talked you up for an Oscar nomination, but it didn't come. Subsequently, you became bitter because you knew such recognition was deserved. Instead of plugging away in more quality projects, you took this perceived lack of respect to heart and began making a series of good 0l' boy movies like "Smokey and the Bandit I" and "II," "The Cannonball Run I" and "II," "Hooper," "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and "Stroker Ace." The films were lamentable and served only to destroy any credibility you might have had left with both the artistic community and the public.
There were also bad breaks along the way. I felt pity when I heard you were the first choice to play the drunken astronaut in "Terms of Endearment," and that you backed out because of a "handshake" promise with your friend Hal Needham to make "Stroker Ace." Jack Nicholson, of course, won an Oscar for his work in the part. It was a terrible thing to hear, because I remembered that Nicholson scooped you in the '70s after you turned down the lead in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Jack won an Oscar for that one, too. While I can't imagine you doing any better than Nicholson in the roles, you might have surprised everyone.
But there’s no use crying about past mistakes. What you need to do is concentrate on the future. Take more roles in which your characters display a real vulnerability, not a manufactured one like Nick Escalante's compulsive gambling in "Heat." And get rid of that silly toupee; it looks like you've got an end-table on your head.
Also, take a page out of Nicholson's book by pursuing some meaty supporting roles. He's become the most beloved and respected actor in the business by selecting parts for their quality, not because his character has more lines than all the others. It's good, too, that you're making movies without Dom DeLuise and Jerry Reed as sidekicks, and Loni Anderson for T &A. Dom's funny, but you can only slap him so many times before it gets tiresome.
And above all, Burt, stay away from the macho parts for a while. Get back into some comedy-dramas. You're very good at them. People want to like you because they know how good you really are. Put the Hollywood movie star back in the closet and let the actor out. I know he's in there somewhere.