Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Smokey and the Bandit

Some movies are intellectually stimulating, deep, and artistically challenging. That does not describe Smokey and the Bandit. There's really not much substantive in this film at all, though of course that doesn't mean it's a complete loss.

Truth be told, if you're watching the film you're really not looking for much in the way of story. Burt Reynolds is the Bandit, Jerry Reed is the Snowman, and they're trying to get beer from Texas to Georgia for a bunch of money. On the way they meet a runaway bride played by Sally Field, and misogynist, racist, and all around objectionable Buford T. Justice, given life by Jackie Gleason, who happens to be the potential father-in-law of said runaway bride. Also in a starring role is a black Trans Am, which goes really fast.

Plot exists solely to give some motivation for some super fast driving and to destroy as many 70s full sized sedans as possible. We're introduced to a fraternity of CB radio enthusiasts, as though the CB industry had heavy investment in the film. Everything happens as an excuse to drive fast and smash stuff.

Is there anything necessarily wrong with that? Well, if you're looking for substance, yes. Smokey and the Bandit was seemingly designed to allow director Hal Needham to film lots of stunts - he's a former stuntman after all - and provide a light Saturday afternoon of entertainment. It's the kind of film that works perfectly on a channel like TBS, there to watch between other programs with every minute leading to something a bit amusing or an impressive stunt. The story is kept as bare as possible because you really don't have to follow it, so why bother?

This isn't to say that the film is meritless, just really lightweight. The junk food of cinema, let's say, but even junk food can be really tasty sometimes. Plus, there are some things that it does right. For one, it's really well cast. Field is great at being simultaneously charming and very annoying. Reynolds has an effortless, bad boy charm and Reed has a strange neurotic charm which also somehow works. The star of the show, really, is the Trans Am, which has this redneck cool that shouldn't be nearly as appealing as it is.

The best actor of the show, by contrast, is Gleason. He manages to make Buford T. Justice into a really horrible asshole that you never object to so much that you hate him, but always just enough that you want him to lose. Every loss where you might feel sorry for the guy is always ended by a perfectly chosen line where you are reminded that this man is an ass. It makes it okay to root against him, but also okay to like it when he's on screen. He's the kind of person you love to see fail, which is good, since he fails a lot.

It should also be noted that it's the source of possibly the world's greatest driving song, Eastbound and Down. It's not used as well as it could be - the chase it is used in is actually a surprisingly boring one - but it's a great song and I always drive a little more irresponsibly when it's on the stereo.

So Smokey and the Bandit has merits, it's just not a very deep movie all around. It's fun, more than anything, for the actors, the cast, the crew, and everyone. Nothing wrong with being fun, and that's why it got two sequels, which will be covered in the coming weeks. Why? Because they're included on the DVD I got, that's why! Hope you're prepared for Smokey and/or the Bandit forever.