"How's this for spectacular?"
THE INSIDE TRACK
In the day, the least successful of Burt's collaborations with Hal Needham, this flick is significant for two reasons:
1) This was Burt and Loni Anderson's only film together. They were later married. That eventually crashed and burned with as much speed and noise as Stroker often does in the movie.
2) Burt turned down the role Jack Nicholson played in "Terms Of Endearment" to do this. "Terms" director James L. Brooks had written the role of the devil may care astronaut specifically for Burt, but Burt felt he "owed" Needham more. Nicholson and Brooks won Oscars. Burt and Needham...uh...did not.
Here's the latent payoff though: Stroker has a cult following today. NASCAR fans love it, and the band Ween recorded a speed metal song named after it.
At the time though, Burt, when trying to decide where his career went wrong, pointed at a list, identified "Stroker Ace", and said ,"That was it. That was the turning point."
"Stroker Ace" was the first Burt Reynolds car movie not to light up the box office and it died a quick death in June of 1983. After the disappointing performance of "Cannonball Run II" the following year, it was all over. Reynolds tenure as a box office draw was more or less kaput by that point.
I first saw "Stroker Ace" when I was 14 years old and even then, I thought it wasn't the best of the boys's work. Watching it now, and being a fan of the whole Burt /car genre, I enjoyed it more. Stroker is silly good ole boy fun, but it delivers on that level in spades.
THOUGHTS WHILE WATCHING
So...I'm watching "Talladega Nights" and I'm thinking, "Damn, this is "Stroker Ace" redux...
Reynolds/Needham films are no stranger to celebrity cameos, but still this one begs the question: What the hell is Elvira Mistress of the Dark doing in a race car movie? Perhaps it was so she could say this was the scariest movie she'd ever been involved with.
Why didn't the credits just say:..and Jim Nabors as Dom DeLuise?
As far as stock car racing movies go, it's still WAY better than "Days Of Thunder" staring Tom "nobody can handle a race car/ jet plane/ samurai sword/ pool cue/ professional hit/ bottle of gin, like me" Cruise.
Several years later, Burt returned to the race track arena as Sylvester Stallone's mentor in "Driven". Burt doesn't even get behind the wheel once in this one as he is confined to a wheelchair the entire time.
Burt says: "I thought all actors were egotists, and hypochondriacs ,and sissies." A lot of the first two, none of the last (I don't think).
Nice to see John Byner, famous to us Canucks from the TV show "Bizarre".
"Stroker's Theme", the title song by The Charlie Daniels Band is great, one of the best things about the movie, and sounds a lot like the band's biggest hit "The Devil Went Down To Georgia". When the soundtrack album came out on vinyl (as an EP, no less), the song wasn't included for some reason. You had to buy the single or The Best of Charlie Daniels Band album to get it.
Several race announcers, several race car drivers, Elvira Mistress Of The Dark, Jerry Reed (during the end credits), the monkey that I believe was used in "Cannonball Run II".
Needham's cameo this time: He steps into frame and hits Burt in the face during the bar room brawl, then disappears. He's also the voice of the director during the shooting of the first fried chicken commercial.
Available from Warner Home Video, most recently as part of a three pack also containing "Hooper" and "Sharkey's Machine". Like the solo disc, it's a completely bare bones release. Not even a trailer, and it's full screen to boot.
Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Jim Nabors, Parker Stevenson, Loni Anderson, Bubba Smith, John Byner.