The central shot has Burt Reynolds lying on his couch after ingesting a fistful of sedatives, pondering his fate until his trademark laugh skids into a crying jag. The darkness of the opening credits yields to magnified X-rays and Paul Williams' score, truly a comedy of the terminal: Reynolds paces at the doctor's office and receives the diagnosis with his features flattened against an aquarium in an unusual long-take. Told of how little time he has to live, he impulsively walks into a church but the baby-faced priest hearing his confession (Robby Benson) is inexperienced enough to exclaim "Jesus!" upon learning of the man's incalculable indiscretions. In short order, Reynolds sees mistress (Sally Field), ex-wife (Joanne Woodward), teenage daughter (Kristy McNichol), and parents (Myrna Loy, Pat O'Brien), all while getting ready to kill himself. He stuffs his cheeks with sleeping pills and milk but spills them onto the lenses ("It's like Walt Disney threw up," he says of the multi-colored mess); he wakes up in the sanatorium, Dom DeLuise sans pants welcomes him. Reynolds deconstructs Reynolds thoroughly and finds anxieties, insecurities, and the crippling fear of pain underneath the persona of the nonchalant superstud. Warren Beatty gave a similar analysis in Shampoo, but when the actor-director sobs helplessly in Woodward's lap against cell-like white walls, we're closer to Allen (Hannah and Her Sisters), Brooks (Modern Romance), and Eastwood (Blood Money). For a self-helmed star vehicle this is unusually generous to other performers -- Reynolds leads the death march toward a Hal Needman tribute, though he's really playing straight-man to the likes of James Best's phone sex-loving patient, Carl Reiner's hearty "death therapy" counselor and, above all, DeLuise's schizophrenic dervish, who gets to match the leading man's magisterial monologue to the Heavens with his own existential capper ("Sane people sure make a lot of crazy rules"). With David Steinberg, Strother Martin, and Norman Fell.
--- Fernando F. Croce