Stroker Ace (1983) – By Matt Singer

Stroker Ace is a towering monument to American narcisism. The Egyptyian pharoahs had the pyramids. Indian emperors had the Taj Mahal. Burt Reynolds has Stroker Ace, smaller in scope than those projects, but no less brimming with total and utter self-love.

The vaguely dirty title refers to Reynolds’ character, a gum-chewing, girl-loving, risk-taking, toupee-wearing, self-loving NASCAR driver forced to accept sponsorship from a fried chicken huckster named Torkel (Ned Beatty). Torkel, for reasons only he knows, enjoys making Stroker Ace – who, it should be mentioned, is almost always referred to as Stroker Ace – suffer for his Chicken Pit, going so far as to outfit Ace’s car to resemble a plucked chicken and making him drive a race dressed in a black-and-white feathered chicken costume. NASCAR fans hate that Stroker has sold out; they despise Torkel’s “blatant commercialism,” though one wonders what about the patches and stickers all over every other driver and car they don’t consider blatant commercialism. Like hip hop musicians, a NASCAR driver’s life is all about street cred, and Torkel is ruining Stroker Ace’s, so he tries desperately to get fired while he tries desperately to get into the pants of Torkel’s virginal marketing director Pembrook (Loni Anderson).

Reynolds, a likable but marginally-talented actor,
made his entire career on the basis of how he looked
behind the wheel of a car, in the long-running Smokey
& The Bandit and Cannonball Run series. It’s pretty
clear he thinks he’s hot stuff and, not surprisingly,
every bit of it comes through in the Stroker Ace
character, whose rampant, pathological narcisism is
played for laughs. Then again, so’s the scene where
Stroker takes advantage of Pembrook, drunk and passed out on a bed. You’ve got to think you’re pretty hot stuff if you expect the audience to cheer you on as
you undress an unconscious virgin.

Stroker Ace may be the only character in cinema
history who refuses to wear an article of clothing not
emblazened with his name or initials. He also has his
own theme song, which graces the opening credits.
Example lyrics: “Stroker Ace / was born to race / had a
mean streak two feet wide. / A son of a gun / with a
taste for fun, / and more than his share of pride.”

Stroker Ace’s intentional humor is never funny,
except when it becomes so head-scratchingly bizarre
that it then becomes funny, like the scene where
Pembrook admits that she kicked Torkel in the scrotum, causing Stroker and his pit chief to remark that neither knows what a scrotum is. How does anyone NOT know what a scrotum is?

Stroker Ace frequently dips into camp territory,
never more so than in the NASCAR crowd shots, which
feature more unshapely, topless men than a nudist
convention. In one of the strangest shots I have ever
seen anywhere, a camera panning an angry crowd catches a glimpse of one topless male fan, who promptly presents his ass to the camera, bends over, sticks his hand into his buttcrack and scrapes it, suggesting, well frankly, I don’t know what he’s getting at. This is not some hard-to-spot, half-a-second background image, this guy is prominently featured on camera for a good ten seconds. This movie is like the worst redneck stereotypes given hysterical, embarassing form. And you don’t even need to take a transatlantic pilgrimige to see it; just truck on down to the video store.