This is going to be a non-chronological ongoing series of failed Elmore Leonard adaptations. Hopefully not in any way ranting, but looking at them and why they don´t really work as films or if they have somethng that speaks for them.
Elmore Leonard, master of crime fiction passed away on August 201th 2013. He left a legacy of higly entertaining pulpy crime novels and western stories for the rest of us to enjoy and hopefully pass on to new generations of readers of bad ass literature. A lot of his work has been adapted into television series and movies. Most notably Justified, (based on the Fire in the hole short story), Get shorty, Out of Sight and Jackie Brown ( originally titled Rum Punch).
There has been hit and misses among them. The biggest mistake has always been failing at capturing Leonards language and transfrom it visually. Sure the amazing dialogue is easy enough, but the tone in his command of the language, the dry humour has always been a big part of why his books are so enjoyable. Since the 70´s he gave up on western stories as they were not profitable anymore and tackled crime fiction instead, Inspired by George V Higgins The friends of Eddie Coyle Leonard started to write about the criminal underworld and the people who dwells there.
But not people who are emotionally scarred or carries the weight of the world on their shoulder. I think we have enough of those selfaware pyschologically crippled characters in crime fiction. He writes about dangerous people, that you actually like to hang with. Often, very stupid people who don´t know they are, but you wouldn´t want to meet them in real life. They are fleshed out, flawed, but not depressingly flawed. They feel human and you often find yourself laughing with them or at them. The books are usually highly character driven pieces in which there are long scenes of characters shooting the shit with each other. Something I belived influence Quentin tarantinos early works.
The plot of Stick concerns excon ernest Stickley jr who just got out of the slammer and is hanging out in Miami with two-bit criminal Rainy. He agrees to follow Rainy to deliver some money to some highly dubious individuals. Shit goes bad. Rainy gets killed and Stick escapes. Now he has basically no where to go, but his streetsmart skills help him out even though as things gettng more complicated as the people who shot his friend want him dead. Normal people would have fled Miami, but not Stick. He sticks around and find himself in a position to make some hustling.
The plot seems like straight out of a Parker-novel. especially The Hunted ( also adapted several times), but with more hustling and scheming.
When Burt Reynolds decide to adapt Stick and star in it,, which is a very enjoyable piece of material , he got to be careful. The main character Ernest Stickly Jr, known as Stick; ex-con, finds himself almost directly in harms way being hunted by homocidal psychos and drugdealers. The great thing about the book is how Sick handles himself. He is at first so out of his league dealing with cuban drug dealers that it makes him likeable. In terms of smart, he is streetwise, but not very wise at all. It´s fun to follow him negotiating the quirky characters of rich hustlers in 1980´s Miami and how he comes out of it.
The problem with this film is Reynolds himself. He plays Stick as your prototypical all-knowing macho-as-hell manly man, which is not who Stick is. Not only that, the studio forced Reynolds to re-shoot parts of the movie, which is evident as the last part of the film makes little sense. Not only the bad deviations from the novel halfways, but the forced shoot em up- finale which is nowhere to be seen in the book- A poor attempt of making the film more commercial. [We here at the Explodable World of Action believe in dumb action . And encourage it whenever we see it. Unless the source material is badass in itself. And does not require meddling studio executive jerkoffs.] Add to that some really awkward scenes in which it is obvious that the studio wanted more of the goofy Reynolds as seen in Cannonball Run and Smokey and the Banddit, rather than the Sharkys´Machine Reynolds.
But as a result it feels half-assed. It starts off pretty good. And some of the more colourful villains of the book has been recreated for memorable, although cheesy, effect.
|"he´s an albino,, so don´t say anything,ok?"|
And then the out-of-his-fucking-mind piller chomping Chuck,who´s largely responsible for the death of Stick´s friend and heavily in league with a Cuban drugdealer named Nestor:
Jesus Christ, Charles Durning! Where the fuck have you been with that hair, those eyebrows and that shirt? You look like a goddamn garden gnome!
Then there is the aforementioned Nestor, the crimelord who, I don´t know the correct technical term for it, is into sacrificial voodo bullshit. In a scene when Stick askes the drugdealer permission to take out Chucky (not on a date) Nestor shows him around his mansion, picks up a scorpion and: goes into a creepy room lit with candles and a lackey on his knees, trying to motivate the lackey with the scorpion.
|Stick: "Are you having a litte motivation seminar?"|
So that is all good. The film does more of an external visual presentation of these quirky characters from the book, which is sensible. In a 90 minute actionthriller you don´t want to delve into the psychology too much, but get the narrative running. Visually you get who they are. And that is cinema. So, that´s pretty cool, I guess.
|Yeah, thanks for the shot of your sweaty legs...|
Yeah, thanks a lot for that, Burt.. The 80´s really got to you. You were really Stick-ing it to us.
But it´s also kind of hard to judge it for what it is. A product of its time. So was the book in the warped depiction of what was going on with the cocaine cowboys in Miami at the time.
In conclussion. I liked the first hour of it or so, but then the obvious reshoots demanded by the studio makes the picture take a real hard turn towards the worse
Read Stick instead of watching it. Stick to Stick by Leonard..
Addendum Note: Stick-The Book is also a semi-sequel to Swag, which is aruably one of Leonards finest books. The film and the novel does not require you reading it. But I highly recommend it.
Next time on How to fuck up an Elmore Leonard novel: Killshot from 2009