Steve McQueen’s final film The Hunter (1980) is basically an excuse for stunts, and it won’t resonate much with non-McQueen fans. But it’s kind of an amusing watch for fans of the actor, who plays Ralph “Papa” Thorson, a hard-working bounty hunter. Papa is totally old school: his car is thirty years old, and his personality and attitude belong to a bygone era. He does have a pregnant girlfriend named Dotty (Kathryn Harrold), though, who is struggling to drag him deeper into the twentieth century and looking to the future. This doesn’t stop him from traveling the country rounding up dangerous bail-jumpers, of course, often nearly getting himself killed in the process.
The Hunter isn’t a particularly good or memorable film — on the contrary, it’s kind of awful — but in some respects it’s a suitable final turn for McQueen, who died at age fifty, just a few months after its release. He plays Papa with his usual mix of subdued cool and subtle humor, and it seems appropriate he would go out as an action hero stubbornly refusing to change. To anyone familiar with McQueen’s body of work, it’s also a hoot to see him cast against type as an absolutely terrible driver. Unfortunately, the story is a morass of random setpieces organized to allow director Buzz Kulik to crash cars and blow things up. This does lead to one reasonably memorable sequence during which Papa goes after a dangerous fugitive on the L train in Chicago. But there’s not much to recommend this hollow mess once you get past McQueen’s cool charisma, which makes it a relaxing, insubstantial background watch.