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  Hunter, The Bye Bye Steve
Year: 1980
Director: Buzz Kulik
Stars: Steve McQueen, Eli Wallach, Kathryn Harrold, LeVar Burton, Ben Johnson, Richard Venture, Tracey Walter, Thomas Rosales Jr, Teddy Wilson, Ray Bickel, Bobby Bass, Karl Schueneman, Margaret Mary O'Hara, James Spinks, Taurean Blacque, Tony Burton
Genre: Comedy, Action, Thriller, BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: Ralph 'Papa' Thorson (Steve McQueen) is a bounty hunter, and he's very good at his job. What he's not so good at is driving, as witnessed by those who are present when he parks his car and manages to hit someone else's vehicle in the process. But that does not concern him so much as finding his next target, who happens to be petty thief Tommy Price (LeVar Burton), a small time criminal who Thorson captures with ease. However, there are other wrongdoers who prove more difficult to round up - is Thorson capable enough for them?

As he was played by Steve McQueen the answer to that would surprise few; this was the star's final movie as he was diagnosed with his fatal cancer shortly after shooting wrapped, and as with many beloved movie actors he went out less with a bang, although there were a number of those here, and more with a mild shrug of the shoulders. Not that The Hunter was a bad film, it was amusing enough in places, it was simply rather blah as it attempted to make a plotline flow through what were a collection of anecdotes as told by the real Papa Thorson in his book, all apparently close to the truth.

Although how much you believed that was open to question, as some of this did appear far-fetched to say the least, as if what you were watching was a dry run for a TV series like The Fall Guy or something, which may have been where McQueen would have ended up had he lived. Aside from a small amount of bloodshed and mild cursing, there was little here which would have looked out of place on television, complete with the sense of humour which ran throughout. Examples of such running jokes included Thorson's terrible driving, self-spoofery dreamed up by the actually very proficient driver McQueen, or the way his pet dog always growls when he greets it.

Diverting to a point, but hardly earth-shattering either as hilarity or suspense. In an attempt to offer this some kind of shape, there were a couple of threads, one which saw Thorson wondering about whether he can live up to his responsibilities as a father as his girlfriend Dotty (Kathryn Harold) is very pregnant. The other is far more contrived and features Tracey Walter as a madman who Thorson put away, but has been released and now wants revenge, so starts a campaign of intimidation leading to a meshing of those plots for the finale, which offers an explosion and a moment of tenderness designed to make the audience go "Aawww" within about a minute of each other.

Mixed in with that Burton doesn't have much to do except dismantle electrical equipment in yet another gag, claiming to be able to improve it when he's doing nothing of the kind. Then there's the episode where Thorson winds up chasing a Trans Am (which the bad guys have stolen from him) around a cornfield in a combine harvester, pretty much apropos of very little, but giving that mixture of humour and action the filmmakers seem to think we wanted. There is serious stuff here as well, with the bounty hunter dealing with a suicidal colleague and all that business about not being ready for fatherhood threatening to break down his relationship with Dotty, so what you're left with was a mishmash indicative of a screenplay unsure of where it was going at any one minute: not through lack of story, but through a confusion in tone. McQueen fans will want to see his final screen appearance, but whether they would return to this often was hard to say, easy to watch as it was. Music by Michel Legrand.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Review Comments (3)
Posted by:
Andrew Pragasam
Date:
10 Nov 2011
  On the other hand, if Tom Horn had been McQueen's last movie he'd have bowed out with a real downer of a last scene.
       
Posted by:
Graeme Clark
Date:
10 Nov 2011
  Or An Enemy of the People, in which case nobody would have seen his final scene.
       
Posted by:
Andrew Pragasam
Date:
11 Nov 2011
  There is a part of me that keeps obsessing over how Close Encounters of the Third Kind or The Driver might have turned out had McQueen been in them. Both parts were tailor-made for him. I love both movies as they are, but he could have brought something special and either would have been a worthier send-off than those he did make. Plus he might have saved William Friedkin's Sorcerer from being a flop.
       


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