Review: Gator

Directed by: Burt Reynolds

I really, really, really wanted to like this one. If you've read any of my past reviews, then you know my love for Burt Reynolds. I think the guy, especially in his prime in the late 70's to mid 80's was just as cool as hell. He doesn't even have to try, he's just a badass.

And I've heard a lot about this one. Heralding from the year I was born, 1976, it's considered to be one of his best films. So I was pretty excited to finally get this one in the mail and pop it in. From what I've read and heard about it, my expectations were pretty high. A no holds barred 70's action flick with lots of fights, shootouts and car chases.
Unfortunately it's not really the film I was expecting to see. As a Cinephile and lover of Badass Cinema I feel it's my duty to report the facts, and to be brutally honest the facts are that Gator is a mess. The genre's are all over the place and just plain weird as it's an odd mix of comedy, action, romance and brutal violence and just simply doesn't work.

The problem is that it doesn't know what "type" of film it wants to be. Right in the beginning you think it's going to be a kind of light hearted goofy action pic. At least that's the tone it sets in the beginning. The law has found him hiding in the Bayou after just getting out of prison. A pretty impressive boat chase ensues with the law being depicted as bumbling idiots falling all over each other trying to catch him. There's Gator in one suped up speed boat and then there's the officers in something like 10 boats I think. They don't catch him and he gets away. They're either crashing into each other, crashing onto land and get stuck or Gator flips there boat over with his hotrod boat, all accompanied to hillbilly country music with a fun upbeat tone. So that's the set up and you think that's the kind of movie Gator is going to be, which it is for about 15 minutes or so. Then it shifts to a serious crime flick when were introduced to the villain of the film Bam McCall, played here by country singer Jerry Reed. Right off the bat I don't buy this guy as a villain. All I can picture is him as the truck driver from the Smokey and the Bandit flicks. And the fact that he's singing the theme song during the opening credits only makes it worse. So were introduced to this guy Bam McCall and were shown that he's the dirtbag trying to run a Southern Florida town. He has the entire police force in his pocket and seems to be running everything. Prostitution, drugs, gambling and has to take a little something out of what seems like every business as they show him going from bars, convenience stores and whatnot to collect money. Why he's able to get away with this, I don't know. He's like one small skinny guy with a really bad haircut and ridiculous sideburns that you just can't help but stare at and his sidekick, a really tall giant who's so tall he drives the Cadillac that he shoufers his boss in with his head sticking out of the roof because he doesn't fit. So he's a mean bastard and the tone of the film whenever he's in it is serious. Then it shifts back to Gator and it gets silly again. And it goes back and forth until about the middle of the film where it literally stops dead in it's tracks and out of nowhere tries to turn into a romantic flick. This lasts maybe about 15 or 20 minutes and then it gets all hardcore serious again because while the romance is blossoming on the beach between Gator and his TV reporter chick 2 principle characters are murdered by Bam. I don't know, it was just too much of a weird mish mash of genre's and it just didn't work for me. The back and forth between silly goofy and hardcore serious turned me off. Like if it just stuck within one of those categories it would have worked so much better. If it had stayed a silly backwoods action flick then "that's" something. Or if it had stayed a taut crime thriller along the lines of Sharkey's Machine or Stick, then even better! Frankly I think it would have worked so much better as a serious crime flick cuz Burt's got the chops to pull it off and make it happen. But somehow it just didnt' work here.

Gator, a sequal to White Lightning, marks Reynolds first gig as director and immediately you can tell the guy's got talent behind the camera. I only wish he had directed more films in his long career, even some where he wasn't the star, because the dude can direct. One of the "main" problems with Gator visually is that Reynolds filmed this sucker in scope, meaning anamorphic widescreen. But the film's currently only available in full frame, no matter where you get it, unless we get either a proper Blu-ray release or even a DVD some day. And if you didn't know about what the difference between widescreen and full frame is or not, after seeing Gator you would because it's been drastically cut from it's original 2:35 widescreen aspect ratio down to a crappy 1:33 full frame thus severely cutting off a lot of the image. It kind of looks like shit and I seriously lost count on how many scenes were out of focus. The first 1 or 2 times I thought it was maybe just bad focusing on the Cinematographer or the D.P.'s part, but after the 10th time it hit's you that the picture is cropped so severely for full frame that whatever person or object Reynolds had in focus in the foreground of the shot has been cropped out. It drives you nuts because it happens so often. The whole pan-and-scan shit that goes on here is almost unbearable. Almost a quarter of the shots were out of focus and makes the production look incompetent. But that's only if you don't know the whole cropping thing with full frame. The powers that be over at MGM really fucked things up with this flick when it was released on DVD along with other Reynolds classics like Hooper, Sharkey's Machine and White Lightning. It's like the studio heads said "Hey, lets piss people off and only release all his films in full frame!".

In a nutshell the story is about Gator McClusky, here played by Burt Reynolds. He just got out of prison and immediately the treasury department is after him because they know he has a connection to an old acquaintance that they want to get there hands on, Bam McCall. They basically threaten to take is daughter away or something if he doesn't work for them undercover to get this guy. He owes thousands of dollars in taxes and they know that he's running everything from drugs to prostitution. So Gator heads up to South Florida to infiltrate his old buddies crime organization and in the process meets a beautiful young news reporter played by Lauren Hutton. Immediately his old buddy offers him a job as a collector going to local businesses to collect "protection" money. But it's not long after that Gator see's what his true criminal activities are and how far his power reaches in the community.

So many characters come in and out of here for convenience, but who offer nothing to really impact the story, most of them just plain odd like the local protester Emmeline who juuuuust so happened to steal a key to the tax records of Bam McCall so Gator and his reporter girlfriend can try and use against him. Sorry, too convenient. And then when they're done with her she gets murdered outta nowhere! And then there's the whole romantic sequences with the news reporter that just does not fit and seems so out of place in this film.
So the story flip flops between silly and serious and there are 2 scenes that stuck out more than any. One was where Gator is getting fed up with all the bad stuff he's seeing while in the employ of his old buddy Bam McCall. As he tries to talk to his old friend about getting out of the business, he sees dozens of girls who look no older than 15 hanging around his place in skimpy outfits. So right away he knows Bam's there pimp. After there talk Bam tries to offer one of the 15 year old prostitutes who's drugged out on every drug known to man on the bed to Gator. He leaves so they can do there business, only instead Gator tries to talk to the girl and ask her why she's doing this. In the end of the conversation Gator ends up slapping the girl out of frustration. I don't know, the whole scene was weird, especially after some of the goofy shit that went on just a few minutes before.
Another is when Gator's old buddy Bam finally realizes that if he doesn't let Gator go, then he's probably going to seriously fuck up his operation. But he doesn't want to kill him because they're old buddies. Instead he takes him to his bar where his giant henchman makes Gator a drink with some kind of tranquilizer or something. First of all you know what your friend Bam is capable of and then you embarrass him in front of his poker buddies and then you hear Bam tell his giant henchman who apparently happens to also be a bartender to make Gator's drink "strong", and you drink it?! So after he gulps the "strong" drink, Bam informs him that it's been spiked and that he will pass out in 1 minute and when he wakes up he will be in his car on the side of the road in the edge of town facing the direction out so that he leaves and never returns. So after hearing this Gator starts to toy with Bam and the giant by calling them names, making fun of them and "not" passing out like they said he would. The whole sequence was really weird, uncomfortable and ran on way too long. It was so tense that you kept thinking something incredible was going to happen, but after this incredibly long sequence nothing happens and he does end up passing out just like they said he would. Bah!

For what it's worth, the stunts and action sequences in here, of what few they're are, are pretty awesome. The violence depicted in here is outright brutal. Also, you can see Burt doing most of his own stunts and the guy was fearless. He can frame a shot beautifully, when seen in it's proper widescreen exhibition, and stage an action sequence whether it's a car chase, fist fight or just a plain ol' murder like a pro. As I said, I wish he had a much bigger career as a director. And the guy is charming and charismatic as hell. You just couldn't be any cooler than Burt Reynolds in his prime. But overall the movie just doesn't work.

In the end I wish they had stuck with a theme here instead of flip flopping between comedy, action, romance and brutal violence because ultimately it's a jumbled mess, one that could have been avoided. And I don't know, maybe it was all the rage back in 1976 to blend several genre's into one film and see what happened. Or maybe he just given too much freedom to do whatever he wanted in his first directing job as he was the biggest movie star back then. Yea, hard to believe it now if your not in your 50's, but Burt Reynolds was "the" biggest movie star on the planet at one time.

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