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Film / Stroker Ace

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On the left from the top: Clyde Torkle, Lugs, and Audrey-sorry, Aubrey James. In the center: Pembrook Feeney. Behind her: Stroker Ace and his moustache.

"Screw second."

A 1983 racing comedy film produced by Hal Needham and starring Burt Reynolds.

The movie follows the eponymous Stroker Ace (Reynolds), a driver with a big ego who finds himself in a complete mess when Clyde Torkle (Ned Beatty), the charismatic and manipulative owner of the Chicken Pit fried chicken franchise, takes advantage of Stroker's need for a sponsor and forces him to sell the Chicken Pit to NASCAR enthusiasts in increasingly humiliating ways. Stroker, along with Lugs Harvey (Jim Nabors) and Pembrook Feeney (Loni Anderson), now have to find a way to make Torkle fire Stroker before Stroker gets fed up enough to quit and be unable to race for the next three years. (It's in his contract.)

This film provides examples of:

  • The Ace: C'mon, it's in the guy's name. Stroker Ace.
  • Actor Allusion: When asked about singing for his acting classes, Doc mentions that he can sing, but it sounds like somebody else singing. John Byner is well-known for his talent for inventing voices, speaking in different dialects, and doing impersonations.
    • Stroker's love of black and red evokes Smokey and the Bandit, in which Reynolds' character preferred the same color scheme (if reversed to favor black more than red).
    • The opening theme mentions that ‘The Bandit is on your tail’, directly referring to the Skoal Bandit racecar, but invoking the Smokey movies.
  • Amazing Freaking Grace: Lugs likes to sing it to show off his singing ability, although this often seems to annoy everyone but Pembrook.
  • Aside Glance: Reynolds delivers his usual look to the camera after Stroker is finished undressing Pembrook and suggests that he could ravish her and no one would know about it.
  • Artistic License: Aubrey James' reckless antics on the track, particularly shoving opponents into the wall. At best, he should have been black-flagged for overly aggressive driving or intentionally causing a caution (which can be assessed at the officials' discretion). At worse, he probably should have been suspended from racing or even thrown out of NASCAR.
    • While an outstanding moment for Arnold, the team would have penalized when he jumped over the wall to join them, as there is a set number of people who can step into the pit to work on the car.
    • Characters state that the final race of the season takes place at Charlotte Motor Raceway. While Charlotte is in NASCAR's cup series, it has never been the final racing location on the schedule. At the time the movie was shot, the final race was the Winston Western 500, held at Riverside International Raceway (closed in 1988) in California. Somewhat ironically, Atlanta Motor Speedway, which stood in for Charlotte, is the second-to-last track on the schedule.
  • Artistic License – Law: Torkle's contract is a blatant example of a Leonine Contract and probably wouldn't have held up in court, especially the "Stroker will be banned for three years if he quits" clause (doubly so because the film doesn't shows Torkle holds that much clout over NASCAR officials).
  • Bad "Bad Acting": Doc's father, predictably enough. This is why Doc instructs his dad to only say one thing and then spends the rest of the time making sure he says it with a passable accent.
  • Bad Boss: Clyde Torkle. Although not overtly abusive toward his employees, he takes great glee out of tormenting Stroker, attempts to use Pembrook’s employment as an opportunity to get into her pants, and threatens to fire Arnold if he loses an impromptu street race to Stroker.
  • Badass Driver: On top of being a champion of NASCAR for three years, we see Stroker driving a car missing a front tire in the beginning of the movie, using Lugs as a counterweight to keep the exposed wheel from scraping the ground. He ends the last race of the movie (and the season) with the car on its roof over the finish line.
  • Band Wagon Technique: Clyde Torkle's response to Lugs' critical (and unfavorable) assessment of his race car is "everyone cheats a little". This goes towards Torkle’s lack of understanding about the sport itself since vehicles are regularly inspected between and even before races by the officials.
  • Bar Brawl: It's a Hal Needham film. Whaddaya expect?
  • Black Comedy Rape: There is little doubt that Stroker trying to get Pembrook drunk and have sex with her is Played for Laughs. This is ultimately averted when Stroker, having gotten to know Pembrook, develops a conscience and refuses to go through with it despite her consenting before passing out on his bed. It's not as if it was easy, though.
  • Brainless Beauty: Pembrook Feeney, although it's hard to tell if she just happens to be that dense or it's just her Incorruptible Pure Pureness shielding her from the crude men around her.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Reynolds does his usual Aside Glance at the audience after suggesting that he could ravish Pembrook and no one would know.
  • The Cameo: During the Bar Brawl, just as Stroker and Lugs give a thumbs up to each other, Hal Needham steps into the shot to slug Stroker across the face.
    • Needham also provides the voice of the (off-screen) director trying to shoot the commercial where Stroker is wearing the chicken suit. This is revealed by the outtakes, in which Needham is seen standing among the crew when the camera pans away.
    • The movie features a number of NASCAR drivers in the background such as Neil Bonnett, Dale Earnhardt, Tim Richmond, Kyle Petty, and Harry Gantnote . A full list of them is featured in the opening credits. It also has a few real life sports announcers.
    • Cassandra Peterson shows up after a race dressed as Elvira and hits on Lugs.
    • Jerry Reed makes one during the gag reel. He starts criticizing the film, although clearly just joking around, and gets dope-slapped by an annoyed Reynolds.
  • Can't Hold Her Liquor: A variant. Pembrook manages to stay conscious long enough for the alcohol to have an effect. The problem is once she’s drunk enough to agree to sleep with Stroker, then she passes out.
  • Catchphrase: "Fastest chicken in the South", much to Stroker's horror.
    • "It's in your contract." Also to Stroker's horror.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The Seegles. They appear at the beginning of the movie, and then they show up toward the end for Doc to act like a rep for Miller showing interest in purchasing the Chicken Pit from Torkle. His dad gets in on the act, and, together, they convince Torkle to fire Stroker as part of the deal to sell the company to Miller.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Stroker tries to make himself sound like one as he slowly undresses an unconscious Pembrook. He proves it the next morning by admitting to Pembrook that nothing happened after she passed out.
  • Comically Wordy Contract: Clyde Torkle's sponsorship contract is shown to be a binder roughly the size of a phone guide, and Torkle expected Stroker to not read through the entirety of it before signing up - which leads to a lot of trouble for Stroker, because if he had read it right up front, he would have noticed that it's a Leonine Contract that forces Stroker to withstand Torkle's bullying with a penalty of being banned from racing for three years if he quits. After Stroker finally reads through it, he discovers that the contract's penalty will only be enforced if he quits, but not if Torkle fires him, so Stroker then sets out to force Torkle to fire him by any means possible.
  • Cool Car: The "Chicken Pit Special", a ninth-generation Ford Thunderbird. It looks a lot sleeker compared to the other cars on the track. Except when it's made up to look like a plucked chicken.
  • Destination Defenestration: It looks like Stroker is about to do this to Aubrey after the latter's victory. It's subverted by the window being a divider to a walkway above the hotel's indoor pool, which Aubrey subsequently falls into.
  • The Dreaded: Drivers can be seen dodging and ducking out of the way when Clyde Torkle makes his rounds through the pit in the movie’s first race. Even Stroker tries to avoid him until he’s fired by his previous sponsor.
  • The Film of the Book: Needham and Hugh Wilson adapted the screenplay from the 1973 novel Stand on It by William Neely and Robert K. Ottum.
  • Foreshadowing: Before the final race, Stroker and Lugs find out that Doc’s plan bought them until the end of the final race of the season for Torkle to fire Stroker. Later on, Lugs jokes that maybe the race will incur a lot of cautions and force the race to end later. Thanks to Aubrey pulling the same stunts as in the beginning of the movie, he causes a massive wreck that delays the race beyond its intended ending time. Torkle sees that Stroker is in sixth and the deadline is coming up, so he decides to fire Stroker so he can sell the company.
  • Genre Savvy: Doc. Although his part in the movie is small, he’s smart enough to roll with Clyde Torkle’s idiot logic to keep from being discovered as a phony. He also instructs his dad (who speaks with a strong drawl) on how exactly he should recite the phrase “I know nothing; I am merely the messenger” and makes sure that it’s the only thing he says to Torkle to help keep up appearances.
    • Torkle as well, since he’s well aware that Stroker is gonna do things so that Torkle will fire him and refuses to give in. He also almost catches on to Doc’s scheme to get him to fire Stroker, but he winds up mistaking his key clue for something else.
  • Gentle Giant: Arnold, Torkle's personal driver (played by Bubba Smith, known for his character Hightower). Torkle probably hired him because his height is intimidating, but Arnold makes it clear that he can fend for himself when he lifts up the team’s car after their jack breaks during a pit. Still, he’s never seen with anything but a kind smile on his face.
  • Gloved Fist of Doom: Implied with the way Aubrey puts on his black racing gloves in preparation for the bar fight he's about to join. Ultimately subverted and Played for Laughs when Stroker taps him from behind and floors him with a single punch to the face.
  • Gosh Darn It to Heck!: Pembrook's usual diction is spotless compared to the rest of the cast. Ever her uses of "darn" seem forced!
  • Got Me Doing It: After having his name either forgotten or misspoken, Aubrey accidentally refers to himself in a moment of irritation as “Audrey James” (just after Stroker called him “Audrey” and then “Aubrey Meadows”).
  • Groin Attack: Pembrook made a big mistake entering Torkle's hotel room at night. Her only defense from his lechery is this, allowing her to escape.
  • Heroic Second Wind: In a way. Once Mr. Seegle gets word back that Torkle has fired Stroker, Stroker picks up his pace, slips into first, and wins the championship despite Aubrey trying to wreck him again.
  • Honor Before Reason: Torkle greatly believes this about Stroker, and he's right. Even with his and Doc’s plan to fool Torkle into thinking he’s gonna sell his business to Miller, Stroker finally can’t take Aubrey James bragging and making fun of him during the race and wins it just so Aubrey doesn’t have bragging rights. He decides to win before Mr. Seegle can call to let them know Torkle fired him anyway.
  • Hilarious Outtakes: Featured as the ending credits roll, as per Hal Needham's usual m.o.
  • Impersonation Gambit: Doc uses his new acting abilities to pose as a representative of the Miller Brewing Company that wants to buy the Chicken Pit franchise from Torkle. It’s a tricky business since Torkle almost catches him twice if not for Doc’s quick thinking.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Thy name is Pembrook Feeney. A Sunday school teacher who took on a job as an advertising consultant, she will not drink, will not smoke, will not have sex out of wedlock, and only ever uses the word “darn” if she feels the need to cuss. (Of course, that just makes her saying the word “scrotum” even funnier.) She manages to dodge most of Stroker’s advances until he gets her drunk and in the mood, and even this fails him because she can’t hold her liquor. Most of Stroker’s and Lugs’ crude humor is completely lost on her, and she thinks nothing of the fact that Stroker was lying on the floor in front of the ladies’ restroom in the middle of a bar brawl.
  • Leonine Contract: Torkle's contract goes way past enforcing the typical affairs of Product Placement and heads straight into the territory of sadistic, petty bullying, enforced by the clause that if Stoker just up and quits, he is banned from racing.
  • Lighter and Softer: Compared to other racing films, Stroker Ace spends more time showing us the antics behind all the speed and danger. It doesn't even follow Stroker's racing season as closely, just sums it up in a montage. Instead, the movie mostly focuses on Stroker's attempts to get out of Torkle's ridiculous contract and sleep with Pembrook.
  • Loophole Abuse: "I know it's in my contract that I have to sell chicken. He didn't say how hard I have to sell chicken!" From coming up with an advertising campaign meant to embarrass Torkle to hiring Pembrook to his pit crew after she quits working for Torkle, this is a major part of Stroker's plan to get out of Torkle's self-serving contract.
  • Marilyn Maneuver: Pembrook in her introductory scene. She just happened to be standing on the low wall in the pit. A mechanic with a portable air tank provides the wind.
  • Nice Guy: Lugs. While anyone can look like a nice guy next to Stroker, Lugs actually puts effort into being a pretty decent guy.
  • No Endor Holocaust: In spite of the horrific crashes (provided by stock footage), no mention is given that some of these other racers might have been seriously hurt or even killed during a race. This is especially frightening considering Aubrey James will trigger one of these just to get Stroker out of a race.
  • Noodle Incident: We never really do find out why Stroker's rental car is missing a front tire in the beginning. And, apparently, this is something that happens often.
  • Not What It Looks Like: After Stroker admits to Pembrook that he didn’t sleep with her, he goes to call Doc, and Pembrook starts crying. Lugs shows up, and, after just hearing Pembrook say Stroker’s name, assumes Stroker forcibly slept with her and goes on to punch Stroker before either one can explain.
  • Oh, Crap!: Arnold’s attempt to keep up with Stroker in an impromptu road race sends Torkle’s car straight through an occupied picnic area. Torkle is laughing about the whole thing until he realizes that he’s just crashed the “Cade County Law Enforcement Association 3rd Annual Fish Fry”.
    Torkle: (to Arnold) "I ain’t mad. Nope. Not mad. He’s gonna be thinking I’m mad. But I ain’t."
    (cue dramatic music and dozens of local law enforcement officers)
    Torkle: "I'm mad."
    • Naturally, the people whose picnic they just crashed also had this reaction once they saw the car sliding straight for them. Afterwards, they were mad, too.
  • Oh, No... Not Again!: Stroker filling Jim Catty's (his boss at the beginning of the movie) car with wet cement certainly seems spontaneous, but the ensuing dialogue between Stroker and Lugs suggests that Stroker has done this to people before.
    • Harry Gant can be heard saying it when he realizes he’s between Stroker and Aubrey once again in the last race.
  • Out of Character: Doc’s plan to pose as a Miller rep almost fails when he asks Torkle for a Dr. Pepper. Torkle finds this unusual, but he somehow fools himself into thinking that Miller is planning to purchase Dr. Pepper next, and Doc just goes with it.
  • Prima Donna Director: Downplayed, but the guy directing the Chicken Pit radio commercial can’t stand Stroker’s reading and seems to have issues working with drivers in general. He is about to put Lugs in the recording booth for doing a better rendition until Lugs mentions singing it.
  • Product Placement: Given that the movie is about a NASCAR driver, there are advertisements for everything and their rivals everywhere. Even KFC gets a mention as the Chicken Pit's competitor.
  • Read the Fine Print: Part of Stroker's trouble. Although not necessarily fine, Clyde Torkle's contract is so long (larger than most phone books) that it's clear that he wants Stroker to just sign it so he can start slapping him around with all the demeaning things that no intelligent race car driver would do. This includes a clause that states Stroker can't race NASCAR for the next three years if he breaks the contract; this sets up the conflict for most of the movie with Stroker trying to get himself fired so that he can go on to another sponsor and not miss any of the racing season.
  • The Rival: Aubrey James would be this to Stroker, but Stroker cares so little that he can't even remember Aubrey's name. One race commentator tried asking Stroker about the feud; all Stroker gave him was "What feud?". This is after Aubrey has been racing against Stroker for two years!
  • Really Gets Around: Stroker, natch. This aspect of him is introduced in the beginning, where he tries to charm the girls on the stage at the speedway only to realize that two of them are already familiar with his charms. This becomes a lesser part of his character as the movie progresses, mostly as he's trying to woo Pembrook.
  • Rule of Three: During Pembrook's undressing, Stroker leaves three times only to pop back into the frame and justify undressing her even more.
  • Running Gag: Stroker can never remember Aubrey's name. Sometimes he even gets his racing number wrong. This is regularly followed by someone nearby reminding him.
    Stroker: (after punching out Aubrey) "Take that, Twelve."
    Lugs & Pembrook: "Ten."
    Stroker: (Beat) "Whatever."
    • "It's in your contract."
  • Sadistic Choice: With Doc's phony Miller deal hanging above Torkle's head, he inadvertently gives this to Stroker during the final race: win, and he's stuck with Torkle for the next three years while Torkle cashes in on the championship, or lose the championship that he worked hard to make it to, but Torkle fires him for the Miller deal. This is subverted when, after the race has been delayed and Stroker is forced to sixth place just before the deadline, Torkle fires Stroker. This causes the sadistic choice to collapse, leaving Stroker free to win the championship without having to worry about Torkle.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: The aforementioned Prima Donna Director when Lugs suggests he could sing the slogan.
    • After preventing Torkle's lustful advances with a Groin Attack, Pembrook voices her resignation before running away.
    • Subverted by Torkle's contract. If it wasn't for a clause that says Stroker can't race for three years if he quits, Stroker would have ditched Torkle minutes into the movie.
  • Take That!: This exchange between Stroker and Doc (remember, Reynolds comes from a stunt acting background).
    Stroker: "I thought all actors were hypochondriacs and sissies."
    Doc: "They are, but I like 'em."
  • The Teetotaler: Pembrook, and she has to remind both Stroker and Torkle.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: "You better grab something that floats, Boss." Cue driving sideways through a police picnic and landing the car in a lake.
  • Title Theme Tune: Stroker Ace gets a badass ballad written by the Charlie Daniels Band, the same guys who brought you "The Devil Went Down to Georgia"!
  • Unexpected Virgin: Pembrook, but mainly to Stroker's confusion. It seems that the word "virgin" isn't even in Stroker's vocabulary; Lugs has to give him the word every time it comes up.
  • Verbal Backspace: This exchange when Stroker is visited by Doc and Mr. Seegle at a fair.
    Mr. Seegle: "Hi, Stroker. We all mighty proud o' you back home."
    Stroker: "Oh, thanks!"
    (cue Aubrey triggering the attraction Stroker is strapped to, turning him upside-down)
    Mr. Seegle: "At least we was..."
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Stroker and Lugs. While it's clear that they do things that get on each other's nerves and (Stroker mostly) can be verbally abusive toward each other, they also spend most of their time getting into trouble together and pal around as if nothing else actually happens. This is particularly apparent when Lugs, in (mistaken) defense of Pembrook, punches Stroker and Stroker acts like it never happened.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Stroker uses one to pull a woman he knows away from Aubrey, who had just won the first race in the movie. He gets her attention and then feigns an injury as he walks out of the bar. While Lugs rolls his eyes at it, the fact that it works leaves Aubrey standing alone on the dance floor in confusion.
  • Zero-Approval Gambit: Halfway through the movie, Stroker tries to undermine Torkle's advertising with a couple stunts that pisses off racing fans. Clyde doesn't bite, however, and instead praises Pembrook for the idea. He later explains to Arnold that Stroker won't do it anymore if Torkle doesn't let on that it actually angered him. The end result is Stroker racing in a "plucked chicken" car wearing his chicken suit.


Video Example(s):


Hal Needham is good in a fight

Director Hal Needham can't resist the opportunity to deck his star Burt Reynolds during a fight scene.

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