Yesterday we followed Burt Reynolds into the ‘80s with SHARKY’S MACHINE. But the cinematic tropes of the decade weren't really set in 1981. Granted, Burt was doing cop work and two ninjas showed up out of nowhere, but we weren’t in true ‘80s territory yet.
That comes today with the 1988 film RENT-A-COP. This seven-year jump brings a much different Burt. He’s just way less physical in general. His hair has gotten less convincing. Even his voice has changed.
But is it a bad thing? Reynolds can still act, and if age forces him to focus more on delivering lines and having charisma with co-stars, maybe there’s a way to see that as a gift. I certainly felt like I was getting more Burt for my buck with this one.
The film begins with Liza Minnelli as a hooker with a heart of Broadway visiting a client in a swanky hotel. She finds him dressed in full pajamas, holding a giant stuffed teddy bear. I don’t know if this is a kink thing or merely commentary on dudes who hire prostitutes but it’s disturbing.
Luckily, before they can get it on, a cop sting starring Burt Reynolds goes bad when James Remar shoots everyone and takes Lina Minnelli hostage. Burt is the only guy to survive. Minnelli gets away from him but Remar escapes as well, leading Burt’s boss to suspect him. Burt blows up (“You mind if I open a window, it’s starting to stink in here”) and loses his job. Meanwhile, Remar finds Minnelli and stabs her in the back with his cool wrist spike thing.
Let’s slow down here as RENT-A-COP throws a lot of wild shit at us in a very casual manner. For starters, Remar plays a villain named Dancer. We don’t fully get to meet the guy until much later, and he’s introduced dancing while watching himself in a three-way mirror. His name is Dancer and he dances. He is a badass, wild killer, except he cannot seem to kill Liza Minnelli. He can’t kill her at the beginning, he can’t killer later with his wrist spike, and she mentions a third attempt on her life so unremarkable we don’t even get to see it. Attempt number four involves a sniper situation and he screws that up too. His only real objective in the film is getting rid of this lady, and he just can’t get it right. In the third act he dances with her, drives her across town, and even ties her to a chair. She survives and he gets his head exploded.
My point is, do not fuck with Liza Minnelli. The film’s really a two-hander between her and Burt Reynolds (Tony Church, except everyone calls him Churcy). She hires him to protect her and then barges into his life, taking it over completely. They eventually fall in love, of course, but she has to battle his every Burt Reynolds instinct along the way. You don’t watch RENT-A-COP for the action. You watch it for the bickering comedy between its two leads.
Poor Reynolds has to deal with a lot here. All his friends die. His boss thinks he’s involved. He loses his job and has to make ends meet by being a department store Santa Claus. The guy stalks a thief in the store while getting bickered at by not only Liza Minnelli but a pesky boss and the 1980s version of a Karen. Of course he loses that job too. (This leads to a great bit where Minnelli follows him while he changes out of his Santa suit. When he asks for privacy she remarks “You go ahead. You got something I haven’t seen before, we’ll donate it to science.” I love her.)
Realizing he needs the money, Burt agrees to help Liza and she immediately moves in with him. He has a very masculine lifestyle of drinking beer in a Chicago Bears shirt while watching black and white movies, and she’s fixing to fuck that all up. This starts a whole thing where he threatens to walk away when she takes too many liberties and she threatens to walk away when he gets too mean. He never threatens to punch her or anything, so it remains pretty fun. They have a lot of chemistry together, and the more Burt speaks in a film, the better it is. At one point, she throws her wig at him, and you’re half surprised he doesn’t throw his at her.
And that’s really the whole movie. Sure, there is a plot involving Dancer and his big-wig employer and a some crooked cops, but who cares. You only watch RENT-A-COP if you want to see Burt Reynolds’ hilariously react when Minnelli feeds him an egg roll that is too spicy. We’ll see Reynolds do this affection-through-irritation thing again in COP AND A HALF, no joke a film I enjoy, but it’s so much better here thanks to Minnelli.
You just can’t keep Liza Minnelli down. Burt can’t do it. Highly-professional assassin Dancer can’t do it. No one can do it. Her pimp in this movie is played by Dionne Warwick. That is how much God favors her above the rest of us.
For those curious, you can watch RENT-A-COP right now on Amazon Prime. It’s quite a nostalgic presentation too: Standard Definition and formatted to fit your screen circa 1993.