Smokey and the Bandit (1977) / Comedy-Action
MPAA Rated: PG for language and innuendo
Running Time: 96 min.
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jackie Gleason, Jerry Reed, Mike Henry, Paul Williams, Pat McCormick, George Reynolds
Director: Hal Needham
Screenplay: James Lee Barrett, Charles Shyer, Alan Mandel
Review published August 20, 2004
A huge success at the time of its release (only Star Wars made more money in 1977), Smokey and the Bandit was the right movie at the right time, riding the wave of Burt Reynolds' (WW and the Dixie Dancekings, The Longest Yard) popularity, rascally Southern good ol' boys, country music, and CB Radio culture that peaked in the late 70s. It's hard to remember now how much of a talent Burt Reynolds was, not only as a leading man, but as a comedian, infusing his film with a comic irreverence that makes this standard chase vehicle so much fun.
Credit first-time director Hal Needham (The Cannonball Run, Hooper) for allowing his the actors to ad-lib as much of their lines as possible, while also keeping the action coming with some outstanding stunt work (Needham spent many years as a stuntman and coordinator). While it won't win any awards for cinematic excellence, there are very few to tread the same path that have as much fun with the material, with a charm so infectious, we in the audience have fun right along with them.
Reynolds plays the titular Bandit, a devil-may-care car driver who accepts an offer by a couple if wealthy entrepreneurs to illegally haul 400 cases of beer across state lines for $80,000 cash. Never one to turn down a challenge, Bandit teams up with his trusty partner, Cledus (Reed, The Waterboy), to drive the tractor trailer, while he plays the role of spoiler, luring the police away from the truck, as they will have to speed the whole way in order to make it in time to claim their money.
Along the way, they pick up a spunky bride-to-be (Field, Legally Blonde 2), who has just ditched her wedding with Sheriff Buford T. Justice's (Gleason, "The Honeymooners") and hitched a ride with the Bandit. The Sheriff soon becomes obsessed with getting the Bandit, as well as the bride back for his son, doing everything in his power to coerce the law enforcement to try to stop them at every turn.
Smokey and the Bandit almost single-handedly popularized much of the movie and television culture for the next several years, spawning a market for chase flicks such as The Blues Brothers and The Cannonball Run, and the wildly popular "The Dukes of Hazzard" television series. The movie revitalized Gleason's popularity with the public, introducing him to a new generation of fans, while Reynolds himself would be catapulted into superstardom. There's also terrific chemistry between Reynolds and co-star Field, which shouldn't come as a surprise since it also existed off camera as well. Just as important a star is the cool Trans Am that the Bandit careens around in -- a sweet ride, especially for high speed pursuits and action-stunts galore.
It's been ripped off so many times by so many bad films and television shows that its a movie that earns very little respect by people nowadays, and I feel that's a shame. Sure, it's not complex, or really very inspired, but somehow all of the parts came together in the right ways to deliver dynamic chemistry and a breezy good time. This isn't one for the critics or the films snobs -- strictly for the fans of Burt, Gleason, and 70s country nostalgia.
-- Followed by Smokey and the Bandit II (1980) and Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 (1983)
©2004 Vince Leo