In this noirish nailbiter, Sharky (Burt Reynolds) is an undercover cop who is kicked downstairs to the vice squad. The disgraced cop holds gang leader Victor Scorelli (Vittorio Gassman) responsible for his demotion. While consigned to Vice, Sharky organizes a highly trained group of men willing to take on cases that others avoid.
"It feels great! It feels like you're a lump of s#*!, lying in the bottom of a commode. And I got my hand on the chain, just waiting to pull it." - Perhaps the single greatest line of dialogue committed to film.
When you willingly commit to watching a Burt Reynolds movie, you already know you're in for a treat. By "Burt Reynolds movie" I don't mean something along the lines of 'Deliverance' or 'Boogie Nights,' I mean movies like 'Cannonball Run,' 'The Longest Yard,' or 'Stick.' These are movies where Reynolds had an immense amount of control over the production taking on the role of either lead actor, producer, writer, director or all of the above at the same time. It's because of this level of control that Burt Reynolds' 'Sharky's Machine' is so darn fun in that early 80s macho 'good because its bad' sort of way.
Tom Sharky is a successful Atlanta narcotics cop with an incredible arrest record and enough citations and letters of commendation to paper a wall. Even with the accolades in his pocket, that doesn't keep Sharky above a botched drug bust that injures an innocent bystander. Sharky is removed from the height of success and cast down into the depths of the department, Vice Squad. Vice is populated by burnout officers who deal with the dregs of society day in and day out. Headed by Lt. Friscoe, a playful Charles Durning, the department is inundated with prostitutes as they try to clean up the streets of Atlanta ahead of Georgia's impending Gubernatorial election.
By chance, the team picks up the right pimp and his stable of women and learns about some prostitutes earning $1000 a night from some very powerful people. With the entire team's interest peaked, they set about putting the pieces together until the puzzle points towards one specific call girl named Dominoe, played by Rachael Ward. With round-the-clock wiretaps and surveillance in place, Sharky and his machine soon learn that one of the prominent candidates for Governor, Earl Holliman, is one of her top clients, and is in fact in the pocket of a shadowy crime boss, Vittorio Gassman, and his drug addict assassin Henry Silva. As Sharky and the rest of Vice Squad build their case, the dangerous waters rise up all around them. After a series of gruesome murders involving other known prostitutes catches up to the woman they're following, Sharky must do anything and everything he can to protect her life and ensure the right people are taken down.
Apparently when it came to pitching this movie, Burt Reynolds sold it as "Dirty Harry In Atlanta," and that description isn't too far off the mark. It certainly tries to be 'Dirty Harry' but it ends up becoming something of an action-packed parody. A lot of the elements are in place, seedy criminals, cops with big guns that sound like cannons, violent deaths, over-the-top action scenes, and to top it off you have a hero with his own definition of right and wrong. So what went wrong here? 'Sharky's Machine' is 100% Burt Reynolds' baby. The original novel it was based on was apparently written with Reynolds in mind. Author William Diehl even went so far as to send Reynolds a copy after it was published and big man Burt bit. It's his movie through and through. Burt's main issue at hand here is a failing behind the camera. He's great with action scenes, but has a tough time maintaining tone. He can be doing a great job building suspense and tension one moment, and in the very next shot he takes a stab at humor or honest drama that is entirely out of place or falls completely flat.
Performances are another issue. Everyone is clearly having a great time attempting to establish unique characters, only they just feel weird. Charles Durning is one part hard-ass commander and then ten parts lecherous horny old guy that gets a bit too much pleasure listening to evidence. Then you have Burt. Most of the time he's great in the role of a committed if not slightly obsessed cop but then other times he goes full cornball letting out lines of dialogue like the one I used to open this review. Perhaps the best performancet of the entire movie is good ol' Henry Silva. From 'The Manchurian Candidate' to 'Above the Law,' to 'Escape from the Bronx' - this dude brings over-acting to whole new level of amazing.
While 'Sharky's Machine' doesn't quite reach 'Dirty Harry' levels of cinematic heights, it does make for two hours of solid 80s action-thriller excellence. This is hardly a great movie by any stretch, but it is fun and endlessly entertaining. Schlock may not be everyone's idea of a good night's worth of movie watching, but if you're willing to let yourself just roll with it, 'Sharky's Machine' is well oiled and a blast to see go.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Sharky's Machine' makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Warner Bros. on a BD50 disc. Housed in a standard Blu-ray case, the disc opens directly to the main menu featuring a static image of the cover artwork.
It's days like this I wish all catalog titles were treated the same. 'Sharky's Machine' arrives on Blu-ray with a lackluster 1.85:1 1080p Blu-ray presentation. I'm sure this is a bit of an uptick from the previous DVD release, but this transfer is clearly minted from a very dated master. Film grain is present throughout leading to some nice detail levels in places and then in the next shot the movie can look like it was being attacked by a plague of locusts with a terribly severe grain structure. Color and flesh tones are equally problematic as characters can look naturally healthy or appear sun-burnt red or deathly pale from shot to shot. Primaries are also equally troubled. Night shots have a tough time, while brighter day shots look more natural and pleasing. On top of colors and wild grain structure, you have the problematic black levels that can at times be pleasing and dimensional looking in one shot and then absolutely crushed the next making the film look flat and lifeless. The print apparently is in decent enough shape and apparently this is the first time this movie has been presented in the proper aspect ratio so that's something, but woof, this movie can look like a dead dog decayed at times.
Where 'Sharky's Machine' wins some points is with the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. Imaging is fantastic here. Most of the sound keeps to the center channels but the loud over-the-top gunshot sound effects travel around the sides nicely creating a strong sense of atmosphere and presence. Sounds effects, dialogue, and music have nice separation and are leveled pretty well keeping in the midranges Some of the music montages can kick a bit too high, but I didn't detect any distortion or other anomalies to knock the track for, they just feel out of place. For a thirty year movie, the track is also free of any hisses, cracks, or breaks. A fine track all around.
Original Trailer: (SD 1:53) this 4:3 framed trailer is a nice throwback to what you'd find on VHS tapes way back when. Lots of guns, lots of gritty narration, and lots of fun.
Burt Reynolds is a singular presence in movies. From being a stuntman to an actor to a writer, producer, and director - the man did it all at one time or another. 'Sharky's Machine' may not be an amazing, jaw dropping crime saga, but it's a solid piece of 80s nostalgia entertainment. As much as I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, this Blu-ray leaves a lot to be desired from the HD transfer. This movie can be eye-pleasing one second and completely ugly the next. Just because its 30 years old doesn't mean it shouldn't at least have gotten a remaster out of the bargain. Thankfully the DTS-HD MA track is nice and strong and lends itself well to the film. I would have loved to see a full special edition for this one complete with Burt Reynolds retrospective and commentary track, but I guess that's being saved for a later date. I want to recommend this disc for the movie alone, but considering the rough transfer I just cant. The fact that the movie is fun is what's keeping me from telling you to skip it entirely. If you don't own the movie already and are a fan, this is probably as good as its going to get so give it a spin, otherwise rent it.