Is it possible to not love Smokey and the Bandit at least a little? Even people who have great sensitivity to movies that stomp all-over modern political correctness, which this movie most assuredly does, might have a hard time avoiding its giddy charms. This is the kind of movie so easy and small that it only really deserves half your attention, but it totally delivers on that investment.
For a whole host of reasons, you couldn’t make this movie today. For one, the stakes are way too low. Burt Reynolds, a legendary trucker-type whose origin we get to hear in the opening credits song, gets hired by two rich jerks (awesome alert - one is played by Paul Williams) to carry a bunch of Coors beer east of Texas in 28 hours. This is considered bootlegging, so in addition to going very fast, he runs a very high penalty if caught by the police. Why is he offered the job? Boredom. The rich guys just want to see if he can do it. Why does he accept it? Boredom. Well, money too, but he doesn’t seem to care much about that. As it plays out, this whole film is built upon a foundation of “Sounds fun, why the fuck not?”
So Burt gets a super fast Trans Am, gets his truck driving buddy Cledus (the incredible Jerry Reed) out of bed, and hits the road. His job is to chew bubble gum and distract police officers from the actual truck while it barrels down the road at 100mph. I couldn't help but think about how many tires and tanks of gasoline these guys burn through.
At one point, Burt nearly murders a lady in a wedding dress who stands in the middle of the highway (played by Sally Field). Instead of yelling at him for almost hitting her, she jumps in the car. This wins the attention of the film’s other main player, Jackie Gleason’s Sheriff Buford T. Justice, because she just abandoned his son at the alter. Once this gets all set up, the rest of the film is basically just a series of car chases with brief breaks for sex and burgers.
Smokey and the Bandit, for lack of a better descriptor, is a sweaty ball-sack of a film. It drips with that weird ‘70s machismo personified by mustaches, hillbilly mentality, and disregard for public safety that would likely gross-out today’s thirteen year olds. The film’s cleanest shirt still has pit stains and smells like stale beer.
But it has that charm nevertheless, thanks mostly to Burt Reynolds’ jovial performance. With his stilted delivery, constant gum chomping, and weird cough-laugh, Smokey and the Bandit gives us Reynolds at his most Norm MacDonald. He doesn’t have an arc, he doesn’t learn anything, and his life never ceases to be more than a big game, but he’s extremely fun to watch anyway.
You will be shocked to learn this, but the film is not without its problems. The car chases, while filled with tons of real stunts, get repetitive after a while. But more than that, it doesn’t take long for Buford T. Justice’s schtick to wear thin. As Justice chases the Bandit, he gets more and more pissed off, and his car gets more and more fucked up. Each cut to him comes with some screeched threat or piece of buffoonery, little of which adds to the film after the first couple iterations. On the other hand, the film’s best scene comes at the end when Reynolds and Gleason halt their dick-measuring contest long enough to share their mutual admiration for each others egotistical tenacity. There is a Smokey and the Bandit 2 out there, and if these two don’t get it on, I will be very disappointed.
Still, it’s nice to revisit a time when we had movies about truck drivers, or guys named Bo, or plots revolving around Coors beer. I’m giving this one four mustache rides out of five, which means nothing as a single mustache ride ought to be enough for anybody.
Best Burt line: (After Sally Field asks why Bo nominated “Frog” as her CB handle) “Cause you’re always hopping around. And you’re kind of cute like a frog… I’d like to jump ya.”