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Reviewed by Will Harris
hen putting together a career retrospective of Burt Reynolds, one tends to shy away from his late 1980s work, and reasonably so. This was, after all, an era consisting of such less-than-memorable flicks as “Rent-A-Cop” with Liza Minnelli, “Switching Channels” (the TV-news remake of “The Front Page,” co-starring Kathleen Turner and Christopher Reeve), and the forgettable thriller “Physical Evidence.” Basically, the guy’s most successful film role found him providing the voice of a dead dog named Charlie, and that fact alone should pretty well clarify why, when ABC came calling with a pitch to do a series of TV movies, Burt came a’running.
As you might’ve guessed, Reynolds served as the titular character in “B.L. Stryker,” a former vice detective in New Orleans who’s now moved back to his home turf of Palm Beach, Fla., to do anything but solve crime. The first of the six movies in Season One suggests that Stryker is one of those cops who can get inside the heads of criminals, but it’s an ability that drains him, and that’s why he wants to get out of the business. You’d think that 75 percent of all law enforcement agents have this ability, based on how prevalent it is in TV and movies, but in this case, someone apparently realized that it didn’t really fit with Reynolds’ smirky character, as it’s never mentioned again. Maybe that’s why Stryker is so easily drawn back into the crime-solving business, quickly opening a detective agency in Palm Beach.
It’s pretty clear that Christopher Crowe, who created “B.L. Stryker,” was trying to go after a “Rockford Files” feel with this series, and thanks to his lead actor, he succeeds pretty well. Reynolds is no James Garner, but it’s not exactly a struggle for him to pull off playing a gifted and headstrong detective who manages to annoy as many people as he charms. He also has the advantage of being provided with a great sidekick in Ossie Davis, playing a former heavyweight champ named Oz. The two have chemistry together, with Oz constantly getting dragged into Stryker’s shenanigans and always acting like he’s right on the verge of grunting, “I’m getting too old for this shit.” Rita Moreno is also a hoot as Stryker’s ex-wife, Kimberly; she’s an aging beauty whose taste in men tends to change rather abruptly, but she always manages to find a soft spot for Stryker.
Let’s not oversell the show, though: we’re not talking about an all-time classic here. If you’re a big Burt fan, you’ll definitely want to check out “B.L. Stryker,” but each of these five movies feels overlong at some point or other, generally as a result of excruciatingly clichéd dialogue that’s been stuffed into the mouths of lesser characters. Not coincidentally, these offenses tend to be at their worst when there are no high-profile guest stars to be found, as in “Carolann” and “Blind Chess.” The last film, “Blues for Buder,” is easily the best of the five, co-written by Robert B. Parker (creator of both “Spenser for Hire” and “Jesse Stone”). It was directed by Reynolds himself, and features a cast including Michael Chiklis, Neil Patrick Harris, Kristy Swanson and Elizabeth Ashley (who would soon go on to co-star with Reynolds in “Evening Shade.”) There’s a really funny recurring joke where Stryker gets wistful about having no children and muses to several different people about how great it would be to have a kid like Kevin Arnold on “The Wonder Years,” but it’s not nearly as funny as Harris’s role as a Bible-thumping teenager who’s so obnoxious that he needs Stryker to protect him.
If you’re wondering: yes, there was a second season of the show, though there’s been no word yet on whether Hart-Sharp will be releasing it anytime soon. Keep your fingers crossed that they do, though -- that’s when a bunch of Burt’s buddies like Dom DeLuise, Jerry Reed, Loni Anderson, Ned Beatty and Charles Nelson Reilly turn up.
Special Features: Oddly, the only feature is one accessible via DVD-ROM, where fans can access PDF files of the scripts of three episodes. Interesting, perhaps, but hardly essential. What, Reynolds couldn’t be bothered to sit down in front of a camera and reminisce for a few minutes?