The SmarK DVD Rant For Smokey & The Bandit: The Franchise Collection Starring Burt Reynolds, Sally Field & Jackie Gleason

Editor’s note:

This review was first published in 2004. It is being re-released in honor of the passing of Burt Reynolds.

The SmarK DVD Rant for “Smokey & The Bandit” The Franchise Collection:

Now here’s an interesting idea from Universal to try to recoup some money from their catalogue titles; double-sided, dual-layered DVDs with either two or three movies in a series on them instead of being spread over multiple discs, at a ludicrously cheap price. So far there’s the Conan movies (after I paid $30 for the special edition when it came out!), American Graffiti, and the Smokey & the Bandit trilogy. Since I was curious about the quality, I picked up Smokey.

The Film

Originally released in 1977 at the height of Burt Reynolds’ star power, Smokey & The Bandit was an uncomplicated action movie with an uncomplicated story, and featured Jackie Gleason being given the comeback role of a lifetime and making the most out of it. The result was a box office smash on the level of movies like Finding Nemo and Pirates of the Caribbean are today. This was enough to spawn two sequels, which we’ll get to in a moment.

Smokey & The Bandit.

If Ashton Kutcher is still looking for the definitive redneck movie to remake with himself as the lead, this may be his best choice. The story and theory behind the movie are all very simple, pre-dating Speed by nearly 20 years but following along the same basic path.

Burt Reynolds is The Bandit, never really named but with a first name of “Bo”, and he’s something of a local folklore hero in the Deep South, renowned for his daredevil speed antics as much as his bootlegging. So when the eccentric billionaire family of Big Enis and Little Enis require 400 cases of beer be smuggled from Texarcana to Atlanta, they make a side bet with Bandit for $80,000 that says he can’t make it from one state to another and back in 28 hours. Bandit’s rationale is simple; the money doesn’t matter, it’s being told that it can’t be done that matters, so he recruits best friend Cletus (aka The Snowman) to drive the truck and he’ll drive the Trans-Am and run interference with the cops.

One problem �” after breaking into the brewery and stealing 400 cases of beer, Bandit stops to pick up runaway bride Carrie (the then-young and super-cute Sally Field; I like her, I really really like her!) and thus runs afoul of local Texas lawman Buford T. Justice, whose idiot son Junior she was supposed to be marrying. Carrie naturally wants out of there, so off they go at 110 MPH with no seat belts, with Bandit cracking wise the whole way and finding newer and funnier ways of evading Smokey (with the help of his network of CB co-conspirators), while Snowman gets his ass kicked in a barfight but gets revenge, and basically the movie zooms along for 90 minutes at a breakneck pace until they make the delivery and live happily ever after.

It’s SUCH an easy formula that you’d think the sequels would write themselves, but they didn’t. With the runaway success of the first one, a second one was guaranteed, and it did roughly half the box office of the first due to well

Smokey & The Bandit II.

Here’s the thing with sequels; there’s generally only two approaches you can take with them and hope to have success. You can either rewrite the first movie and hope for a repeat of the chemistry from the lead players, or you can go completely into left field and make something totally different and hope for lightning to strike twice.

In the case of this movie, I have no idea what the hell happened.

There was at least one positive sign to start: they got all the original cast back, plus added Burt’s lapdog Dom DeLuise to the mix as well. In a tacked-on introduction to the alleged plot, the Enises decide to suck up to the governor of Texas in an attempt to win his support for their own campaign when he retires, so they hire the Bandit for one more run, this one paying $400,000 for one perfectly legal delivery. One problem: Bandit, burned out on fame and having been dumped by Carrie, is sitting in a cheap motel marinating in booze and flop sweat while his ex-girlfriend is back marrying Junior again. Carrie runs out on her wedding again to help get Bandit back into game shape, they hit the road again, Buford Justice follows them again in hot pursuit mode, and once they make it to Miami to pick up the cargo the entire movie collapses in on itself.

Where to even begin with how this movie went so completely and utterly bad?

First of all, the “cargo” turns out to be an elephant. AN ELEPHANT! Who gives a flying f*ck about delivering an elephant to Texas? Who even believes that? The elephant literally weighs down the movie, as the writers use the animal to manufacture reasons to constantly have them stopping on her behalf, and sloooooooooow doooooooooown the original pace of the movie, giving Burt’s buddy Dom a chance to mug for the camera at every opportunity.

Second, Dom Deluise is not funny. At all. I have no idea where Hollywood got the idea that a bad Italian accent and gynecology jokes are somehow comic genius, but last I checked this was supposed to be an ACTION movie, not a screwball comedy. Dom is there playing a doctor essentially kidnapped by our “heroes” (along with the poor kidnapped elephant) to doctor the elephant because they think she’s sick. How the hell are a bunch of rednecks going to know that an elephant is sick? Maybe locking her in the back of a truck for 18 hours while driving through Georgia might have something to do with it, hmm? Anyway, Dom serves absolutely no purpose towards the plot other than having them stop for hours at a time and tend to the stupid elephant, who I must reiterate I didn’t care about one bit. You can’t have a car chase with an elephant in the back of your truck, last I checked.

Third, Sally Field is useless here, collecting a paycheque and wearing outfits designed by Bob Mackie that get specifically billed in the credits as such, even before the screenwriters do, which should tell you something. Her only purpose through the entire movie was to remind the audience how sorry we’re supposed to feel for the elephant and fall in and out of love with the Bandit. Other than that, there was no reason for her to be collecting $50,000 of the payday.

Fourth, the Bandit himself becomes a totally unlikable shithead by about 40 minutes into the movie, to the point where you’re actually cheering for Justice to catch him. There’s one scene where he stops for gas and the clerk calls him an asshole for being so self-centered, and his response is to attack the kid and beat on him while declaring that America loves him. He’s a really pathetic character, in fact, who obviously hates himself, and at the end of the movie Cletus finally has enough of his shit and punches his lights out, which produces the only positive reaction from me through the whole movie.

Fifth, the whole damn movie looks like it was shot second-unit with Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed inserted later by shooting them sitting in mock-ups of their vehicles. There’s no connection for the viewer between anything happening on screen in the climactic demolition derby because it’s all obvious stuntman shots interspliced with pickup shots of the stars, with dialogue obviously dubbed over top later on. It’s just sloppy film-making and it reeks of a director running out of time and money, which is ludicrous considering the movie was originally green-lighted in 1977 and finally released in 1980!

Sixth, by the time we get to the third act, such as it is, the script completely forgets what the original POINT OF THE MOVIE was and has to tack on a senseless ending to somehow make sense out of what happened in the last 30 minutes. Out of nowhere you get Jackie Gleason playing his “brothers” Gaylord Justice (one guess what his gimmick is) and Reggie Justice (who is Canadian) and it all just falls on the screen with a thud as you wonder what happened to the original “Cop chasing guy in hot car” premise of the movie.

Seventh, the climactic showdown features ONE HUNDRED cop cars, suddenly appearing out of nowhere at the behest of Justice, chasing the Bandit, until roughly the same number of semi-trucks rolls in out of nowhere to save the day. Where were all these trucks? The world’s biggest truck stop 2 miles away? And I’m not one to criticize morality in what was, theoretically, a comedy, but watching a bunch of redneck truckers demolish and torture hundreds of police officers, who they might need to actually help them with an actual crime down the road, just made me feel disturbed and sad for whatever mean-spirited jerk wrote this garbage, not entertained.

Eighth, after all the rationalizing away of his blatant disregard for every law of the country, the Bandit chooses NOT TO MAKE THE DELIVERY, because it somehow makes him look unselfish for Carrie and thus wins her over. Sure, he’s a maniac who destroys hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer’s property and nearly kills dozens of innocent police officers, but he’s a good guy because he chooses to keep the elephant for himself, as well as the $200,000 advance that the Enises gave him. SO WHY THE HELL DID WE HAVE TO SIT THROUGH NINETY MINUTES OF THIS FUCKING MOVIE?

My final summation of complaints with this movie is as follows: It’s an action movie that keeps avoiding action, and it wants to be a comedy but it’s not funny. It wants to develop the characters, but most of them are so hateful, stupid, or unlikable that it’s impossible to find anyone to cheer for (outside of the elephant taking a shit on Burt’s toupee if we’re lucky) and the audience doesn’t even get the payoff that was promised by the basic setup of the plot. It’s not even well-made junk, because you can spot the overdubs at places where they probably had to rewrite the material on the spot to fit with whatever new version of the script was being shot that day.

In short, this is a very, very, very bad movie that had bad idea written all over it from day one and should have been shelved before Burt could embarrass himself any further.

And then they made ANOTHER ONE

Smokey & The Bandit Part 3.

The most annoying this about this one is that after sitting through the second one, I kind of LIKED this one by comparison. It’s actually a far better movie than the second one is, because they immediately trimmed the dead weight and went back to the basic premise of the first movie.

Burt and Sally are GONE this time, and good riddance, and really the star of the movie is Jackie Gleason, as he gets 80% of the screen-time and makes the most of it. Back to a nice simple idea again, as Buford decides it’s time to retire, but he quickly gets bored (including a hilarious poke at “The Hustler” with a shuffleboard player) in Florida and decides to take up the Enises on their offer of one last bet for his pride — $250,000 against his badge, and all he has to do is carry a fiberglass fish on his car from Florida to their ranch in Texas in 18 hours or less. To trip him up, they hire Snowman (Jerry Reed, the trucker from the first two movies) to portray “The New Bandit” in a cute bit of self-referential tweaking, as he’s delighted that he’s the one who gets to wear the hat and drive the car this time around. He even stops to pick up a useless female character as eye candy, just like Burt did.

And from there they play a glorified game of Capture the Flag (or Flounder in this case), trading the fish back and forth on their way to Texas, as Buford’s car gets increasingly demolished along the way until it becomes another self-referential joke, with the Enises shocked that the thing could possibly still be running after all the abuse. Smartly, the only times it slows down are far quick jokes involving Cletus trying to be the Bandit – including a really funny run-in with a biker bar – and otherwise they’re on the road all the time, barking at each other over the CB while Justice spews racist and sexist remarks and insults his idiot son and everyone else who slows him down. And in the end, Cletus understands what Bo didn’t; there can’t be a Roadrunner without the Coyote, and sometimes you have to lose the race because it’s the decent thing to do for someone who defines his life by chasing you. I thought that was a really, really cool thing for him to do, and I really liked the ending of his movie as compared to the second one (well, I liked most everything as compared to the second one )

Of course, this isn’t exactly a masterpiece or anything. If you thought the overdubbing and insert shots were bad in the second movie, it’s brutal at times in this one due to a budget of nothing and rushed production. Entire plot points are inserted via ADR (like Little Enis reminding his dad about their plan to wreck Justice’s gas tank, to make them look like heels, even though it was clearly established seconds later that Junior forget to fill it up) and the stuff with the Enises seemed to exist only to expand their role in the movie. Jerry Reed overacts through the whole movie, in the bad way, trying for the cool of Burt in the first movie and just looking like a dork, and the lead actress is a total throwaway.

However, faults aside, I’ve seen far worse in terms of light-hearted B-movie car chases. This is a moderately-budgeted tribute to the first movie that exists to give Jackie Gleason a star turn, and makes no apologies for it. It’s frequently funny, features some nice stunt work, and is actually focused and centered instead of meandering and pointless like the second one.

So for something like $12 US, you get a classic, a turkey, and something in between, and if you wanted to buy the original anyway, you might as well get this and give the third one a look too.

The Video

The first two movies, on side one, are 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the second one looks much better than the first. The first movie features quite a bit of grain and dirt, as this obviously wasn’t restored in any way, just given a new transfer from the same negatives. The second movie, being three years younger, has the advantage of nicer colors and better contrast. The third movie, on side two, is 2.35:1 non-anamorphic widescreen, which is weird because it’s never been on DVD before so you’d think they’d just do a proper transfer. Anyway, colors are good, but again there’s dirt and scratches evident.

The Audio

Dolby 2.0 mono all around, which was the original soundtrack from the theaters, so that’s fine. A 5.1 mix would have been cool on the first movie, but given the nature of this release it’s silly to expect it. Everything is clear as a bell though.

The Extras

A trailer for each movie. That’s all.

The Ratings:

Smokey & The Bandit:

The Film: ****1/2
The Video: ***
The Audio: **
The Extras: ½*

Smokey & The Bandit II:

The Film: DUD
The Video: ***1/2
The Audio: **
The Extras: ½*

Smokey & The Bandit Part 3:

The Film: **1/2
The Video: **
The Audio: **
The Extras: ½*

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