By the time Stick hit cinema screens in 1985, Elmore Leonard was far from the household name he had become in the mid 1990s. Up until that point, most of the screen adaptations of his work had been in the western genre thanks to films like Hombre and The Tall T in the 1960s. But as the 70s came, Leonard wrote an original screenplay for the Charles Bronson action film Mr. Majestyk and supplied the source novel for the failed Robert Mitchum thriller The Ambassador, which would serve as the first adaptation of 52 Pick-Up (and would get a much better, sleazier adaptation only two years later in the hands of John Frankenheimer). And just a year following the release of The Ambassador, Leonard would both supply the novel for Stick and write the screenplay himself, keeping it from being another fiasco that strayed from his written word too far. It wouldn’t be for nothing either as, despite what reviews said at the time, Stick is one of the better Leonard adaptations so far – which isn’t necessarily saying it was faithful.
Like The Ambassador before it, Leonard had a lot of issues with Stick and how it largely ignored his novel. Despite contributing the screenplay this time around, he accused Burt Reynolds of doing his own thing and directing a Burt Reynolds movie (as he starred in addition to directing) instead of an Elmore Leonard one. Critics and audiences seemed to side with Leonard, as what was a successful book on the charts was a failed movie at the box office and reviews were resoundingly negative at the time. But over three decades later, it’s hard to not be entertained and charmed by Stick. It’s a rough around the edges star vehicle, arguably a vanity project for Reynolds who clearly wanted to shoot a film in his native Florida and have fun, that is much lighter on plot than the novel is and favors action over exposition. Luckily, the action is good! And Burt is in top form as well, playing the smarmy ex-con with gusto and handling the staging behind the camera competently. For my money, this is one of the more fun adaptations of a Leonard novel. It’s not as well known or audience friendly as something like Get Shorty or reveres the source as much as Jackie Brown, but it is worlds better than The Ambassador, the 2004 version of The Big Bounce or nearly any TV movie adaptation. It has also been routinely mistreated on home video and hopefully having it available in HD, thanks to Kino, will give people reason to approach it again or finally see it for the first time – even if we still don’t have Reynolds’ original cut available after all of these years.
Stick comes to Blu-ray for the first time via Kino Lorber Studio Classics and the results are impressive. As mentioned above, Stick had never really gotten its due on home video. Universal turned out a bare bones MOD disc that looked passable but had a weak audio track and zero supplements. Kino fix this with a clean 1080p transfer that retains an organic layer of film grain and gets those lush Florida colors to look vibrant. The audio track, DTS HD MA 2.0, is much better than that on the DVD with everything coming in clean and balanced, including the (arguably overbearing) very 80s electronic score. The only major supplement, outside of trailers, is a great commentary with critic Nick Pinkerton. If you want to know anything more about the source novel, the troubled reshoots, Florida crime films, Burt Reynolds career, etc this track will give you that and more. It’s exhaustive and consistently entertaining. It may be the only special feature of note, but considering that both Reynolds and Leonard are no longer with us, it makes sense and it makes up for the lack of anything else with quality.
Stick may rarely, if ever, get mentioned in the same breath as Get Shorty, Jackie Brown or other, more popular, Elmore Leonard adaptations and maybe that’s for good reason. It deters from its source in a variety of ways, has Burt Reynolds’ finger prints all over it even in its studio compromised cut, and it is admittedly easy to label as a generic 80s action movie and move on. But it’s more than that! It’s a great piece of Florida-set crime cinema, has a handful of well shot action scenes, features Burt in top form, and does retain some choice moments from Leonard’s novel which are hard to mistake as anything but Leonard. I, at the very least, am happy to have Stick on Blu-ray and looking and sounding better than it ever has on home video. Maybe you will be too if you give it a shot.