The Series Project: Smokey and the Bandit (Part 1)
Smokey and the Bandit II (dir. Hal Needham, 1980)
The Smokey and the Bandit films are all rated PG, but, like the aforementioned Police Academy movies, they get more and more kid-friendly as we continue. Case in point: Smokey and the Bandit II, which features – sigh – an elephant. The original featured an epic quest to get crappy beer to a big party. Fair enough. That seems like the Bandit's speed. Part II features a crazy quest to get a live elephant from Florida to Texas. My new hypothesis: any film that features the frantic transportation of an exotic animal is going to be dumb.
Bandit (Burt Reynolds) has a new story arc too. It's been several months since the events of the last film, and he and Carrie (Sally Field) are now broken up because of his shallow womanizing. Carrie is going to give Junior (Mike Henry) another shot, and Bandit has turned to heavy drinking. When Big and Little Enos (Pat McCormick and Paul Williams) make Cledus (Jerry Reed) another offer, to transport an elephant for a pile o' money, Cledus has to get the team back together. Bandit, then, must get back into fightin' shape, reconcile with Carrie, and take to the road with a pregnant elephant. Oh yes, the elephant is pregnant, which means there's definitely going to be a birth scene on the road. The veterinarian on the case is played by a mock Italian Dom DeLuise, further skewing Smokey and the Bandit II into cartoon territory.
Movie characters I like: eccentric billionaires who motivate the action by offering huge amounts of money to the heroes, all for their own amusement. Should I ever do any acting, this is a new dream role of mine. The bored billionaire who entertains himself with wacky bets.
Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) is back as well, and is now chasing Bandit out of pride, and also because Carrie ran out on Junior again. Gleason must eventually enlist the help of his kin (uh oh), and we're introduced to his cousins. Gaylord is a gay, mincing sissy sheriff, Reginald is an opera-loving Canadian Mountie. All three Justices are played by Gleason. Not too much comes from this gag other than the visual juxtapositions. Buford also wears a heart monitor on his wrist, and we hear it beeping when he gets stressed out. This also doesn't pay off in any significant way.
Smokey and the Bandit II climaxes when Cledus enlists the help of 30 trucks to face off against Buford's army of Sheriff cars all so Bandit can make an escape in his new Trans-Am; yes, Bandit always drives a black Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am now. There is an enormous demolition derby, cars crash, flip in the air, are crushed like cans, and eventually subdued. Bandit escapes by driving over the tops of trucks. Whee! Also, Bandit learns that Carrie only likes him when he's compassionate, and he is willing to give up the elephant quest for her so she'll like him again. Luckily, there's also time to get the elephant to its destination. Everyone wins! Except the audience!
The first film only barely sailed by on charm, so by making the second film far more broad and slapstick-y, you rob the series of its more subtle appeal (if anything about Smokey and the Bandit can be called “subtle”). The third film will only disappear further down the rabbit hole, especially as the Bandit is pretty much absent from the proceedings entirely.