Jock, joke, movie star, centerfold: the many lives of Burt Reynolds.
Reynolds is a true movie star of the old school, a figure of tremendous charm and charisma. Unfortunately, these qualities do not extend to Reynolds the memoirist, as this desultory account of his life and career fails to evoke the sense of roguish fun so familiar from his many appearances on talk shows over the decades. With the assistance of Winokur (The Big Book of Irony, 2007, etc.), who also co-authored James Garner’s memoir, Reynolds dutifully sketches his early life as if checking items off a list, only perking up when discussing the peccadilloes of his football chums. While this material demonstrates some level of engagement, it’s a bit like suffering through a narcissistic stranger’s tales of schoolyard glory. Reynolds structures the book as a collage, forgoing a strict chronological narrative to offer chapters on specific people and experiences that have most deeply affected his development. The best of these is an extended reminiscence of the filming of Deliverance, a landmark film and his professional breakthrough; the author’s account of the filming is entertaining and insightful. Mostly, though, Reynolds regards his career with a self-deprecating shrug. He declines to dish much dirt, despite his longtime status as tabloid scandal–fodder (ex-wife Loni Anderson comes in for some mild criticism), preferring to extoll the virtues of the likes of Dinah Shore, Jon Voight, Johnny Carson, Bette Davis, and others in the most generically positive terms. Missing are the caustic wit, effortless magnetism, and bracing go-to-hell attitude that made Reynolds such a potent cultural presence in his prime. His remarks about Boogie Nights, the late-career film that revived his reputation and earned him an Oscar nomination, are telling: he didn’t get it and didn’t like it.
A largely toothless and perfunctory look back at an extraordinary career—it may be cool to not give a damn, but here it makes for an uninvolving reading experience.