In 1987 when Malone was being released, the peak of Burt Reynolds’ career was behind him. He was still successful and was doing films and TV shows after that, but there was a distinct change in the quality of the films he was putting out. At this time there was a bit of a shift with what an action hero looked like. Guys like Reynolds and Bronson were being nudged aside for Stallone and Schwarzenegger. This was the rise of the action hero who reigned well into the late 90’s. Thankfully the smaller studios understood there was still an audience that wanted to see Burt Reynolds on the big screen, and that’s where Malone fits in. It isn’t a film that is trying to be anything special, and I feel its ultimate fault is that it is so generic, so familiar, that it becomes so forgettable at the same time.
Richard Malone (Burt Reynolds) is a CIA hit man who has hit a crossroads in his career. Basically he’s tired of killing people for the government and decides to call it quits and just live the rest of his days as a drifter. While travelling the Pacific Northwest he has some car trouble, which leads him to a small town that is being bought up one business and home at a time by a local millionaire Delaney (Cliff Robertson). Malone befriends the town’s local mechanic, Paul Barlow (Scott Wilson) and his daughter Jo (Cynthia Gibb). They’ve taken in Malone to give him shelter while they repair his car, and during this time Malone witnesses some of the violent and underhanded tactics Delaney uses to muscle the locals. While this is going on, Malone’s ex-CIA partner and lover, Jamie (Lauren Hutton), is hired to find Malone and to kill him.
While the story is entertaining, we’ve seen these tropes before in numerous westerns, and this film, despite being set in 1987, is still very much a western from start to finish even if the horses have been replaced by cars and six-shooters replaced by Uzis and other automatic weapons. Reynolds seems to be very aware of just how familiar the plot is, to the point his cool swagger is replaced by a sense that he’s simply bored with it all, and he’s clearly just doing this film for the paycheck. This is unfortunate, because the cast surrounding him is actually pretty good. Cynthia Gibb is one of the film’s highlights. Her youthful energy pretty much outshines the sleepy performance from Reynolds, and her scenes with Scott Wilson are pretty much the heart of this film.
Seeing Reynolds take on Delaney and his group of thugs is really what we are here for. This first 2/3 of this film is pretty much filler that we know is just building up for the big final-act showdown. This final act just comes off as so generic that it at times feels like a parody, down to even the villain dispensing his monologue explaining and rationalizing why he has done all the evil things that he has. There were so many moments where the filmmakers could have subverted the expectations of the audience, but instead played it safe and never dared to stray off the rails.
While I don’t hate this movie, it certainly didn’t leave an impression on me. As a fan of Burt Reynolds, I’m glad he has a catalog of films I can revisit and have fun with. As much as I enjoy Scott Wilson and Cliff Robertson, they just are not a strong enough reason to want to revisit this film. But it does somewhat hold a place in history, because after this film Reynolds seemed to resign himself to more family-friendly material like All Dogs Go To Heaven and then TV shows like Evening Shade and BL Stryker.