Smokey and the Bandit (1977) a (very) belated review

To begin, yes, I have seen Smokey and the Bandit many, many times before.  So much so, if fact, that while watching again for the first time all the way from beginning to end in probably twenty to thirty years (ouch!) I could recite bits of dialogue and was very familiar with scenes as they were playing out (watch out for Burt Reynolds breaking the fourth wall!).

Still, my daughters hadn’t seen the film and, after watching the two-part Gas Monkey episode dealing with the restoration of a Pontiac Trans Am nearly identical to the one used in Smokey and the Bandit and, along the way, visited Burt Reynolds (the poor guy looks really old), curiosity was raised and a desire to see the film was awoken.

So we put the film into the machine, sat back, and watched.

To begin, Smokey and the Bandit is probably not an easy film for modern audiences to enjoy as I and so many others did back when it was first released.  The pacing, greased lighting in 1977, plays out slower by today’s standards.  And, let’s face it, CGI has allowed filmmakers to create far more destructive and amazing stunts than those offered within this film.

Still, for those who stick around, Smokey and the Bandit remains THE quintessential action comedy, with heroes who aren’t afraid to smile and laugh and enjoy what they’re doing, compared to the modern “dark” heroes we see all too much of today, with their perpetual scowls and bad attitudes.  Indeed, this was one of the more pleasant aspects of revisiting the film: to see people on the screen having what looks like genuine fun.

In fact, the only one who doesn’t appear to be having any fun at all is the “villain” of the piece, Jackie Gleason’s Sheriff Buford T. Justice, though he is more of an authoritarian spoil sport (and a very ineffective one at that) rather than someone to be genuinely feared.  He’s boisterous and hilariously foul mouthed but, like the Coyote in his perpetual mission to capture the Road Runner, you know from the outset he will never get his hands on his prey.

Burt Reynolds absolutely sparkles as the “Bandit”, the man who runs interference in the smoking hot black Trans-Am for his equally gregarious “Snowman” (Jerry Reed, providing a great and memorable soundtrack as well as acting), his partner in crime.  The crime they’re involved in?  Transporting -with a tight time limit- a shipment of beer from Texas to Georgia, something which back then was considered bootlegging.

Yes, even the so-called “crime” the two are engaged in is hardly the type of stuff one would figure the law would -or should- care about.

Into the fray arrives Sally Field’s Carrie, a free spirit who left Sheriff Justice’s dim witted son at the altar, and whose presence in the Bandit’s car provides not only romance (the only thing missing from this action/comedy), but also the reason why the foul-tempered Sheriff continues his dogged pursuit of the Bandit well outside his territory.

Smokey and the Bandit was never meant to be anything more than a fun time at the theater, and in that respect and despite the movie’s age and slower pace it remains just that, an absolutely delightful experience.  The young ‘uns may not appreciate it or the (by now) less impressive stunt work, but revisiting this film after all these years -and willfully forgetting the many sour attempts to replicate its success- hasn’t diminished the original.

“We’ve got a long way to go…and a short time to get there.”

What are you waiting for?  If you haven’t seen it in a while or never seen it at all, give Smokey and the Bandit a look.  You won’t regret it.

Highly, highly recommended.