Sunday, April 26, 2015

Newsploitation: STICK (1985) in the Box Office Mud!

Today’s box office birthday is an odd one because it is a film that should have kicked major ass both on the screen and at the box office.   Unfortunately the ‘80s crime flick STICK (1985) ended up getting stuck in a bunch of behind-the-scenes mishaps and executive decisions that resulted in a damaged film.  And the only person it seemed to hurt was the star, Burt Reynolds.

In early February 1983 it was announced in trade papers that Universal and Jennings Lang Productions had picked up the screen rights to Elmore Leonard’s forthcoming novel STICK with the author signed on to adapt the screenplay.  On July 27, 1983 it was announced in Daily Variety that Burt Reynolds had signed on to star in and direct the adaptation.  This was big news for Reynolds fans as it marked the actor’s return to straight action after the comedies THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS (1982), BEST FRIENDS (1982), STROKER ACE (1983), and THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN (1983).  It was also great news in that he was returning to the director’s chair after his hard hitting action flick SHARKEY’S MACHINE (1981). Unfortunately, STICK would end up being somewhat of a cursed production.

The actor slots filled up and were announced in September 1983 with a October 1983 start date in Florida penciled in.  Interestingly, one tiny blurb mentioned that Richard Benjamin – who would go on to direct Reynolds in his very next feature, CITY HEAT (1984) – turned down a role in the film.  Filming began on October 3, 1983 and disaster struck almost immediately. On Thursday, October 6, Reynolds was filming a scene with stuntman Dar Robinson and got accidentally shot in his right eye by wadding from the blanks in the gun. Reynolds was airlifted by a helicopter to a local hospital and, luckily, it didn’t do any permanent damage.  A few weeks later an even bigger disaster struck on another Thursday as a camera crane collapsed and fell on three crew members while shooting in Fort Lauderdale on November 10, 1983.  Luckily, all three – including one who was initially listed in critical condition – survived. Despite the mishaps, it was announced in Variety in December 1983 that Reynolds had completed production and come in three days ahead of schedule.

STICK was originally scheduled for an August 17, 1984 release date.  However, it became quickly apparent the film would not meet that date due to Reynolds’ health problems.  He had started filming CITY HEAT in April 1984 and was hit in the face with a chair on the first day of filming.  This, combined with suffering from TMJ, led Reynolds on a series of doctor and dentist visits which ended with him becoming addicted to painkillers.  (Oddly, Reynolds covers this part of his life in detail in his autobiography MY LIFE, but makes not a single mention of making STICK).  Also, apparently Universal execs didn’t like the film (uh, did they not read the script they approved?) and wanted major changes.  Writer Joseph Stinson was brought on to add new material.  In late August 1984 it was made official as Universal announced STICK would be moved to 1985 and that Reynolds would do some reshoots, which took place in November and December 1984.  Fans interested in alternate footage can see the original ending here.

To make matters worse, Elmore Leonard spoke badly about the film publically leading up to its release.  STICK eventually reached theaters on April 26, 1985.  It debuted in the top spot with a haul of $3,358,299, just barely ahead of the weekend’s only other new release, JUST ONE OF THE GUYS (1985). In the end, the film made just $8,489,518 which was bad considering the $20+ million budget.  It also paled in comparison to what Reynolds – who had been a huge box office draw since 1977 – was earning in other films in the early '80s (BEST FRIENDS and WHOREHOUSE were big hits).  Because of the film’s trouble production, STICK is now often associated as the film that marked the beginning of Reynolds’ decline at the box office (actually, THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN underperformed before this).  As it stands, it did mark a downturn in his popularity as an action hero, but resulted in an interesting period of five or so years with films like this, HEAT (1986), and MALONE (1987).  It wasn’t until turning back to comedy with EVENING SHADE on TV that Reynolds again became a box office hit, albeit of a smaller variety with COP AND A HALF (1993).

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