Stroker Ace

A back-stretch blazer, a real hell-raiser and a race-track romeo
Hal Needham
Burt Reynolds, Loni Anderson, Jim Nabors, Ned Beatty
The Setup: 
Burt Reynolds is a horny race car driver.

It’s amazing what finding a DVD for $1.75 will do. It could make you, like me, buy something like Stroker Ace, one of those Burt Reynolds movies from the period where he was sliding into irrelevance, going out with Loni Anderson, and the toupee was obvious. In fact, the only thing I remember about this film, aside from the fact that it seemed tacky to me even when it was out, was that an English teacher of mine was sure that the title was supposed to be understood to mean “Stroke Her Ass, and given the cover art for this movie, and the general air of horniness / disrespect for women going on here, I think he may be right.

There is not even a menu on the DVD. We learn that this is a Hal Needham film, the former stuntman who went on to direct the Cannonball Run and its sequel, as well as other things I can’t remember right off the bat. We also find out that it co-stars Jim Nabors and Parker Stevenson!

First we see this kids in the bayou or wherever. One of them is so pale I SERIOUSLY thought he was shot in B&W and composited in later! Even his clothes are pale. It really is quite strange. Anyway, fade to Burt and Jim Nabors, which would imply that Jim is the other kid way back then, but I don’t think he turns out to be. Anyway, we have a song in the storytelling vein of the song that opened Gator and the Cannonball Runs, only this one is by the Charlie Daniels Band, and describes Stroker [that IS his name] as “a back-stretch blazer, a real hell raiser and a race-track romeo.” This made me think that I should get me a Charlie Daniels Band CD. That would make me totally butch, don’t you think? I could listen to it while I wear my trucker hat.

Okay so once we’ve established that Jim Nabors will be filling in the Dom DeLuise role, Burt gets in a car and looks over to spot Loni Anderson as Pembrook Feeney. There are about 25 men gathered around Loni as he inexplicably stands up on this… thing, and one guy takes an air hose, with the full approval of all the men gathered around, and blows Loni’s dress up, exposing her panties. Can you believe this was considered good clean fun, suitable for kids?

Anyway, Parker Stevenson, former Frank Hardy and I believe Mr. Victoria Principal, is on hand as Aubrey James, this cocky racer with a serious rivalry with Stroker. He causes an accident on the raceway, rendered in stock footage that does not look remotely like the rest of the film.

Now during this time we have discovered that Pembrook, that’s Loni, is a Sunday school teacher and a virgin. We’ve also noticed—as you can well imagine in a movie that takes place in the world of car racing in the early 80s—abundant mustaches and general 70s hotness. So one day Ned Beatty shows up and asks Burt to sign a contract to accept Beatty as a sponsor, and it’s not too long before Burt does, without bothering to read it. This struck me as a trifle odd, as Burt seemed to be doing perfectly fine without any sponsorship, but whatever, it’s just a plot point. In here we’ve also noticed that—to me, who never watched Gomer Pyle—Jim Nabors is actually quite funny!

Well, as surely you guessed, there’s all sorts of bad stuff in this contract, foremost of which is that Burt has to do all sorts of undignified things in service of this line of fast-food fried chicken restaurants, like appear at their openings and wear a chicken suit in their commercials. By the way, Elvira makes an appearance, and comes on to Jim Nabors. I forgot why.

Then there’s the hallmark of the 70s Burt Reynolds film, that Burt is just so happy-go-lucky and carefree that he crashes his car in public places, which is just SO crazy, and never injures anyone! In this case, Burt causes Beatty to crash into a quite populated picnic, and by a miracle, he doesn’t hit anyone! In reality, 20 people would be lying dead. After an appearance by a cutie bear, Pembrook, who has been growing ever closer to Stroker, asks him to pop her cherry. She then goes into the bedroom and passes out. Then follows a long scene that is supposed to be amusing as he undresses her unconscious body, leering at her boobs and panties from inches away. The next day, he tells her that he didn’t ravage her, and she says “You could have, but you didn’t… You are the most wonderful man.” Ladies, don’t you agree? If a guy doesn’t RAPE YOUR UNCONSCIOUS BODY when he has a chance, doesn’t that make him just the greatest guy? That one’s a keeper, girls. You know, your mama said you better shop around.

So it comes time for the big race and Beatty tells Stroker that if he purposely loses, he can be let out of his contract. This is supposedly such a dirty-dag-nasty thing to do that even Beatty’s bodyguard deserts him. It’s an HONOR thing, don’cha know. Burt makes like he’s going to lose long enough to generate “suspense,” then decides to win. In here we have another poorly-integrated stock-footage crash—notice how the car in question’s clearly visible number changes from 33 to 77. The good thing about the stock footage crashes is it allows them to choose a really awesome, bang-up crash, which is exactly what happens. Anyway, Stroker wins, Parker admits his superiority, Beatty lets him out of his contract anyway, and presumably he goes off to pop Penbrook’s hymen.

You might be surprised to hear that I enjoyed this much more than it sounds like. It seems less lame than say Cannonball Run II, and I find Nabors much easier to deal with [and funnier] than Dom DeLuise. There was always a weird vibe about DeLuise, with him inviting you to laugh at his weight and the strange relationship he seemed to have with Burt. It’s also just… kind of funny. I mean, I still don’t think that’s any reason to watch it, but if Zapatistas raided your home and held you at gunpoint while this movie was on cable, there are worse ways to pass the time.

Should you watch it: 

Not by choice, but if you happen to, you’ll live.