Adam Rifkin sings the praises of 'Deliverance,' 'The Longest Yard,' and 'Smokey and the Bandit'

By Clark Collis
March 19, 2018 at 07:39 PM EDT

In The Last Movie Star (out March 30), real-life Hollywood icon Burt Reynolds plays Vic Edwards, a faded big screen notable whose visit to a film festival in Nashville turns into a nightmare. But making the movie was a dream come true for filmmaker Adam Rifkin, whose previous credits include directing Detroit Rock City and writing Mousehunt.

“When I was growing up in Chicago, Burt Reynolds was my hero,” says Rifkin. “He was the biggest movie star in the world. He was funny, he was cool, he was ubiquitous. He was in all the most successful films, he was on every talk show, he was everywhere you looked. To me, as a kid, I just thought he was the coolest guy. I wanted to be his friend, I wanted to hang out with him, he just seemed like everything I could dream of being as a cool adult.”

But which five Burt movies would Rifkin most recommend? You can check out the filmmaker’s choices, below.

Smokey and the Bandit (1977, directed by Hal Needham)

Smokey and the Bandit to me is the best example of Burt Reynolds as the most charming, the most fun, the coolest movie star in the world. He’s effortless in his humor, and in his joie de vivre, and he carries that movie with such swagger. Is it the best movie ever made? No. But that’s irrelevant. Because he is so fun in that role and that Bandit persona became this iconic character for which he would forever be known. Plus, the relationship between he and Sally Field is so charming, and so sweet, and funny. I’ve seen it countless times. It’s just got such an energy to it. Hal Needham, it was his first film as a director. He had been a stuntman, and a very close friend to Burt for many years, and they had so much fun making that movie — and you really see it reflected on the screen. I just love that film.”

The End (1978, directed by Burt Reynolds)

“Burt Reynolds was a very fine filmmaker in addition to being a big star. The End is not the only excellent film he directed. He directed Sharky’s Machine, Gator — he’s a very good director. He plays a character who’s diagnosed with a terminal illness, and he doesn’t want to wither away in pain, so he is committed to killing himself to avoid suffering. And everything goes wrong in his pursuit of suicide. Burt is such a sweet guy, he brings tremendous emotion to the role, and even to the movie as a whole, so even though it’s a very funny, dark movie about someone trying to kill themselves, it’s very poignant. There’s some very emotionally resonant moments. And it’s got an incredible cast. He cast Myrna Loy, which is really cool, and Kristy McNichol plays her daughter, and she was great, and Dom DeLuise. Anyway: great movie.”

Hustle (1975, directed by Robert Aldrich)

“[Hustle] is Robert Aldrich at his most neo-noir. The way it’s lit, the mood, the nihilism of it all, is just classic Aldrich noir, which I love. It’s a murder-mystery, and Burt plays a cop trying to figure out who did it, and Catherine Deneuve plays a prostitute he’s having a relationship with. What I love about that movie is the relationship between he and Catherine Deneuve. They are fabulous together on screen — very sexy, but it’s a very dramatic relationship, as he struggles to deal with her profession, and she struggles to deal with her profession, as well as her feelings for him. She’s willing to give it up for him, he doesn’t know how to love her, she doesn’t know how to love him. It’s a toxic, dysfunctional relationship, but you can see why they’re drawn to each other. They’re obviously both extremely good-looking but there’s also something about the chemistry between them that’s great. Burt divulged to me that he and Catherine Deneuve dated during that movie, which of course makes him all the more my hero. [Laughs] But I really love that film.”

The Longest Yard (1974, directed by Robert Aldrich)

It’s a great movie. Just period. Just a great movie. He plays a disgraced quarterback who gets thrown in prison and the warden, played by Eddie Albert, wants him to use his football skills to assemble a football team of prisoners, so they can play against the warden’s team of guards. So, it’s the guards against the inmates. And, of course, with Burt Reynolds at the helm, you root for the inmates — you’re rooting for the murderers, and the criminals, and the outcasts. They’re such a band of brutal misfits but it’s so funny and it’s so exciting the way Robert Aldrich pulls it all together. And I’m not a big sports fan. But you don’t have to be a big sports fan to love The Longest Yard. It’s the bridge film between Burt Reynolds-the-actor and Burt Reynolds-the-movie star. Burt Reynolds became a superstar off of Deliverance. But that was an ensemble piece, and it was a very dramatic film, and Burt played a very dramatic role. He is still giving an actor’s performance in The Longest Yard, but he is doing it with the swagger of Burt Reynolds-the-movie star. And as a result, it’s just such a fun film and such great film.”

Deliverance (1972, directed by John Boorman)

On its surface, it’s an action-adventure film about four suburban city boys who go on a river canoeing trip and quickly everything goes wrong, turning it into a nightmare. But just beneath the surface, it’s much more than a physical man-versus-nature film. It’s a mythical allegory into the deepest, darkest recesses of men’s souls. Not to sound corny, but it is that for me. It forces the characters, and by default the audience as well, to question what many of us are truly capable of, given extreme enough circumstances. And the neat thing about the four characters is they all kind of represent four sides of modern man. So, Jon Voight would be the everyman; Ned Beatty would be the gluttonous reflection of American excess and overabundance; Ronny Cox would be the intellectual, who can’t reconcile putting aside societal law for Darwin’s law; and then there’s Burt Reynolds’ character, who is the pinnacle of masculinity, virility, overconfidence. He’s the quintessential macho male who arrogantly believes he can tame nature through brute force and of course nature bites back. It takes a confident actor, a confident leading man, to feel comfortable in the third act, giving up his power and being weak. But Burt’s made a career out of self-deprecation and taking jabs at himself, so that’s no surprise. Anyway, Deliverance is one of the greatest movies of all time.”

The Last Movie Star costars Ariel Winter, Clark Duke, and Ellar Coltrane. The film will be released March 30 in New York and Los Angeles. See the trailer for The Last Movie Star, above.