Sharky’s Machine is a 1981 film you don’t hear much about anymore. That’s a shame because it’s a real treat. The film is a neo-noir film set in Atlanta, Georgia about a group of Vice cops who stumble into something bigger than what they thought they were getting into. Here we give it the Last Movie Outpost Retro Review treatment.
Sharky is a narcotics cop who gets demoted down to the vice team after a drug bust turns into a bus shootout, complete with wounded non-combatants. This is something that the powers that be look down on.
While busting sex workers, Sharky notices one of the soiled doves complaining about a ruling class John getting off the hook after being caught. This leads to them learning the future state Governor is a customer of these sex workers. Sharky sets up round-the-clock surveillance on one of the girls to try to catch the Governor and ends up stumbling into a deeper, darker plot.
Along the way, Sharky falls for the angel with dirty wings he’s been watching right about the time she becomes the target of a hitman.
It’s a great mix of action and cop thriller that takes its time letting things develop and ends with a tense chase with a coked-up hitman who soaks up bullets like a sponge.
Directed by the star, Burt Reynolds, it has a great supporting cast. You have Brian Kieth, Charles Durning, Bernie Casey, Earl Holliman, Henry Silva, Rachael Ward and a bunch of other character actors well known at the time.
Arguably, the support cast is more interesting than Sharky. Burt really let them all have their time to shine and develop, and it makes for some great interaction between all the burnt out near has-been vice cops.
Sharky’s Machine was based on a novel by William Diehl, a former journalist, and producer, which was published in 1978. It was Diehl’s first novel, written when Diehl was 53 and broke. It sold to Delacorte Press for $156,000 on the basis of a six-page outline and 120 pages. At the time Diehl said:
“It’s a total fantasy come true.”
The Washington Post said of the novel:
“[It] may make a decent movie, but it tries to be three or four novels at once and manages to be none of them.”
This didn’t stop the movie from getting largely positive reviews on release.