I don't think it's unfair of me to start this review by saying that Hal Needham isn't really a great director. His background in stunt work showed through more than any technical aptitude or eye for any great moments of pure cinema but I also don't think it's unfair to say that he created some filmic fun while having plenty of laughs with regular star Burt Reynolds (who takes the lead in this movie, the sequel, the two Cannonball Run films and also Hooper). Smokey And The Bandit kept me entertained when I was a lad and my tastes were simpler and unrefined. It's a crude, juvenile film moving from one car stunt to the next and yet it remains entertaining in a way that makes you remember how you piled up all of your toy cars as a kid and got shouted at from your parents when they stood on a displaced wheel or side door.
Burt Reynolds is The Bandit, aided and abetted by his mate Cledus AKA The Snowman (Jerry Reed). The Bandit has accepted a bet to pick up and deliver a trailer full of beer over county lines within a pretty tight time limit. He will distract the police and scout ahead while Cledus drives the truck. Things get trickier when The Bandit picks up a runaway bride (Sally Field) and doesn't realise that she is being pursued by the jilted groom (Junior, played by Mike Henry) and, more importantly, his father (Sheriff Buford T. Justice, played brilliantly by Jackie Gleason). It's full pedal to the metal as The Bandit and The Snowman (with Frog now in their group) try to stay one step ahead of every Smokey on the route.
When I was a young lad the things I liked about Smokey & The Bandit were the following:
1) The Pontiac Trans Am, which (I thought at the time) was the best, coolest, fastest car ever.
2) The banter between Reynolds, Reed and Field.
3) Any scene with Sheriff Buford T. Justice being made to look foolish and berating his dumb son.
4) The dog that was sharing the truck cab with The Snowman.
5) The car stunts.
6) Little Enos (Paul Williams) and Big Enos (Pat McCormick).
But now I'm older, a man of the world with different tastes and an appreciation of finer cinematic fare. So, is there anything to like about it now? Well, the direction by Needham and the script, based on a story co-written by Needham and then developed by a few different folk, remain as disposable as I thought they were before I'd reached my teens. Yet the rest still works. I still love the car, though I now realise that it's not the best, coolest OR fastest. The banter is still fun. Sheriff Buford T. Justice is still a highlight, though I have no idea who the hell came up with lines like the following: "There's no way, no way that you came from my loins. Soon as I get
home, first thing I'm gonna do is punch yo mamma in da mouth!"
The dog is still sweet, the car stunts are still enjoyable and sometimes impressive and the interaction between Little Enos and Big Enos is still amusing.
Which means that, all in all, I still enjoy Smokey & The Bandit for all of the same reasons that I used to enjoy it. It's held up surprisingly well, better than The Cannonball Run (for example), and remains a fun chase movie with Burt being a superstar and the stuntwork with cars, bikes and big trucks making up most of the better moments.