RAVEN (1996): Burt Reynolds Chomps Cigars, Cracks Wise in Bargain Basement Action Film

Reynolds was truly larger than life

So help me, there’s something I deeply love about the work that MVD is doing in the home video market right now. With their Marquee and retro “Rewind” lines, they’re churning out the kind of films that I feel like I desperately need to see… even if they don’t even end up being all that great. And boy howdy, is Burt Reynolds’ Raven exactly one of those titles.

Escaping from near total 1996 obscurity onto the boutique Blu-ray market, this is a low budget action film featuring largely a cast of unknowns outside of Reynolds (except for very prolific character actor Richard Gant whom I know best as having briefly been Jason Vorhees as the Coroner in Jason Goes To Hell). “Raven” is the codename for a team of government operatives who act more or less like assassins. So in a way it’s got a “men on a mission” vibe. But it’s also a little bit hard to pin down exactly what it wants to be.

We start out with a bunch of politicians waxing about how elite and unstoppable team Raven is. Then we’re introduced to the team as they fight to recover the most McGuffin-ey of devices, a 2-piece box that’s some kind of invaluable decoder but honestly looks like a painted up ammunition box. Ultimately the team is pretty much decimated, and Reynolds (who is code named Raven… so… it’s both his code name and the team’s code name?) reveals his true colors as a cutthroat mercenary who’s willing to take the gizmo to the highest bidder. He and his only surviving man, Duce (Matt Battaglia), end up fighting and shooting at each other, crashing their helicopter and apparently dying. Both are still alive, however, and while Duce goes off the grid and tries to begin a new life with the beautiful Cali (Krista Allen), Raven is out there getting revenge on the politicians he believes sold him out, while also trying to make his fortune by selling the 2-pieced McGuffin, and of course, Duce has the other piece.

Muddled and a little hard to follow right from jump street, Raven is very uncertain about what it’s trying to be and say. Sometimes Reynolds is cracking wise and other times he’s speechifying about dirty politicians. It veers from buddy movie to double cross movie to men on a mission and as a result has a very aimless tone. Director Russell Solberg is a career stunt professional with some 100 credits to his name, and I always love it when a stunt person gets a shot at helming their own feature. He got a chance to direct a legend and let him swagger around the set like he owned the place because, frankly, Raven has little going for it beyond Reynolds’ star power. Writer Joe Hart seems to have been quite prolific in the ‘90s with films such as Cyber Tracker and T-Force. You know, stuff most of us have never heard of but, with titles that kind of make you want to see them immediately. Even star Matt Battaglia, who’s chiseled but a little wooden here, doesn’t offer much as the lead but apparently went on to produce 2009’s Brothers. Ahh, Hollywood.

Raven will only be of interest to a highly niche audience of Burt Reynolds aficionados and action movie cinephiles. And that’s why I’m so grateful to MVD for putting out a barebones release of this obscure title on Blu-ray. It was a treat of cinematic exploration for me that I was thrilled to experience. That the film itself is pretty bad is just fine by me, because I highly enjoyed seeing a swaggering Reynolds at perhaps the nadir of his career (which he later salvaged and redeemed) continuing to be absolutely irrepressible. Reynolds’ star was unique, and shown extremely brightly. He didn’t disappear into roles; every character he played was Burt Reynolds. And Burt Reynolds is what we all came here to see.

And I’m Out.

Raven is now available on Blu-ray from the MVD Marquee Collection

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