Shakespeare and the Bandit
On paper "A Bunch of Amateurs" sounds like it should work, Burt Reynolds playing an ageing Hollywood action star who comes to England thinking he is going to be doing "Lear" with the RSC at Stratford but finds it is a small amateur dramatics group in a village called Stratford. But there is something about "A Bunch of Amateurs" which sadly doesn't work and the only thing I can think of is energy because this is a movie which plays out at the same level from start to finish. It never really sparks into life as we get a series of pretty obvious gags from a randy landlady who fancies the ageing star to the star being a fish out of water in a quiet village with none of his usual luxuries. It's still entertaining but "A Bunch of Amateurs" ends up more disappointing than enjoyable because you know it could have been better.
Sitting in a half empty theatre, ageing Hollywood action star Jefferson Steel (Burt Reynolds - The Longest Yard) is struggling to deal with the fact that he is becoming a joke as well as being a disappointment to his daughter. Demanding a better role from his shifty manager Charlie Rosenberg (Charles Durning - A Boyfriend for Christmas), Jefferson is persuaded to head to England when Charlie says he could play Lear in a stage production at Stratford. What Jefferson doesn't know is that the Stratford he is going to is a tiny village and the production is by an amateur dramatics group. With none of his usual luxuries, a randy landlady and more lines to learn than he has in his entire career it is an up hill struggle especially when Nigel Dewberry (Derek Jacobi), the local thespian, is jealous of loosing out to an American for the big role.
So on paper "A Bunch of Amateurs" does sound like a good movie in the style of Ealing Studios as we have the quiet English village with a variety of quirky locals. And the casting of Burt Reynolds as the ageing action star coming to terms with his career dying and a failed relationship with his daughter is inspired. But something just doesn't work and not to sound nasty but "A Bunch of Amateurs" ends up feeling a little amateurish.
The trouble for me is that it is all one level delivering various gags but never ever sparking into life. It is not that the various fish out of water gags are obvious or that inevitably Jefferson learns some important life lessons as he grows to like the locals it just all plays out at one level. As such come the half way mark where Jefferson starts to warm to the situation it feels no different to when he is delusional and diva-ish at the start. And by the time it ends and he's learned some things about what is really important there is no emotional relief but just actors reciting words and walking through their parts.
In fairness that is probably a bit cruel because Imelda Staunton gives it her all as the randy landlady with a thing for Jefferson, Derek Jacobi gives us plenty of thespian skulduggery as rival Nigel and Samantha Bond gives plenty of patience as director Dorothy. But when it comes to Burt Reynolds as Jefferson he never sparks into life, he has the same disinterested almost pissed off look on his face at the end as he does at the start. I'm not singling out Reynolds as the only reason why "A Bunch of Amateurs" doesn't fully work because there are other issues from poor jokes and some weak smaller parts but the fact that Reynolds never really changes his character is a big part.
What this all boils down to is that "A Bunch of Amateurs" isn't terrible but as you watch it you know it could have been so much better. There are various problems but sadly Burt Reynolds as the dry and emotionless Jefferson is a big part of why it never truly comes to life.