Every ’80s Movie: Sharky’s Machine (1981)

Sharky’s Machine, 1981

Directed by: Burt Reynolds

Written by: Gerald Di Pego

Story by: William Diehl

Burt Reynolds describes this movie as ‘Dirty Harry goes to Atlanta’, and while it might not reach the heights of any of the films in the Harry Callahan series, this was still a pretty entertaining – and pretty gritty – neo-noir with one of the most charismatic leading men in Hollywood history in front of and behind the camera.

Story: 5.8

Like most entries in the noir and neo-noir genre, the story at the center of Sharky’s Machine is a little convoluted.

Reynolds plays the title character Sharky, a vice cop who is working the angles to bust a high-class prostitution and human trafficking ring, a ring that has a mole in the police force, a grip on the next governor, and a coked-out assassin played by the always delightful Henry Silva running around knocking off anyone who crosses them with the help of a Chinese gang and a shotgun. Like I said, the plot is a little convoluted, and it might not be entirely original, but that’s fine. You can follow what’s going on and that’s about all you need, because this is a movie that is designed for you to watch Burt be Burt… which is all we really wanted from this in the first place.

I will say my main criticism of this movie is that it doesn’t seem to want to commit to being the sort of movie it should be. It almost feels like it needs either more steam or more sleaze.

Just about one-third of the movie is spent with Burt on a stakeout of one of the big baddie behind this organization’s favorite escorts, Domino. They use a lot of montages here to convey the time that Sharky spends watching her, and we’re to believe that he starts to develop feelings for her after watching her for so long, which works well enough to get the point across, but they could have leaned into the voyeuristic nature of the stakeout and maybe upped Sharky’s lust factor for Domino… since it’s something they tease later when he takes her to his childhood home to hideout and when they get there, she sees her pictures on his wall. 

This is a minor criticism, really. We get what’s going on, I just think going with a more focused scene rather than the montage to show time would have set the hook a little better in the audience.

Acting: 7.3

Roger Ebert once said that any movie with Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmett Walsh in it can’t be altogether bad. I gotta say, I feel that way about Henry Silva, and casting him opposite Burt was absolutely brilliant.

Silva is a total maniac in this movie. He’s coked out of his mind the entire time and just screams for seemingly no reason every time he goes to shoot someone. I don’t know who thought to add that touch to his character, or if it was something from the book, but it’s perfect.

The rest of the cast is full of dynamite character actors like Brian Keith and Charles Durning.

Production Value: 6.5

I never really thought about Burt Reynolds as a director. He only helmed a handful of movies and did some television shows, but I gotta give it to him, guy made a pretty solid picture. He’s not reinventing the wheel here, but it’s a fairly pretty good looking movie with some crazy moments of violence. 

Aside from the Dirty Harry series, Reynolds said two films influenced him with on this, Rear Window – which makes sense given the stakeout scenes – and Laura, the 1944 film noir from Otto Preminger, which concerns the investigation of a the murder of a woman who was shot in the face with a shotgun… which Burt uses to kick the story into 3rd gear.

Guy was not shy of sprinkling some gore in, like the gross finger cutting scene, or adding a pretty cool falling from a skyscraper stunt.

Costumes: 7.6

Mustaches, chest hair, and some of the finest sports coats I’ve seen since the 3 for 1 sale at the Salvation Army last year, Sharky’s Machine showcases some great casual 80’s fashion, and I commend it for that. 

Nothing can go wrong if you put Burt Reynolds in a turtleneck.

Music: 3.2

The music in this film, however, isn’t quite as assured. It’s pretty bad generic jazz junk. 

Swing and a miss.

Total 30.4


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