The Series Project: Smokey and the Bandit (Part 1)
Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 (dir. Dick Lowry, 1983)
With initial, direct references to Return of the Jedi and Patton, Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 feels almost like a ZAZ spoof film right up front. I declared that the series lives and dies by its connection to the Bandit, but the series itself clearly has more affection for Smokey, the browbeating jerk. Buford T. Justice is the protagonist of the series in this film, and the central struggle and mission will now belong to him. Justice (Jackie Gleason) is about to retire, ashamed that he never caught the Bandit. Big and Little Enos (Pat McCormick and Paul Williams) offer him a quest to redeem himself. Carry a fiberglass shark (as an advertising tool for their new restaurant) from Florida to Texas in a finite time, and he'll win. If he can't make it, he has to surrender his badge in shame. Story is set up: Go.
Justice piles Junior (Mike Henry) into his car, and off they go. The film tries to get a lot of mileage out of what have now become Buford T. Justice's catchphrases. “Tick turd” is said a lot. “There's no way you could have come from my loins” too. Buford often threatens to punch his wife in the face because Junior is so dumb. Domestic abuse is hilarious.
Oh, and since the film does mention a Bandit right in the title, we have to have one in the movie. Burt Reynolds elected to sit this one out, so the Bandit is now Cledus (Jerry Reed) in disguise. He drives the black Trans-Am, wears a mustache and a white cowboy hat, and pursues Justice for reasons I was unable to surmise. I think it was a fit of poetic completion. Can't have a Smokey without a Bandit. Pyramus needs his Thisbe. This Bandit is also paired with a woman on the run in the form of the unhappy Dusty Trails (Colleen Camp). Dusty and Bandit II banter a bit, but they seem to be Olympian observers to Justice's race. They do hijack the shark Justice is supposed to be carrying, mostly just to mess with him. Bandit II and Dusty have nothing to gain in this scenario.
Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 is just as broad and cartoony as the previous film, but there are a few moments of caricatured sexiness that make it a little less kid-friendly. We're deep into Police Academy tone at this point. At one point, Buford and Junior stop at a motel called The Come On Inn, which is actually a fetish club; shades of The Blue Oyster abound. There is brief nudity (back when breasts could appear in a PG-rated film; also, back when breasts appeared in mainstream feature films in any capacity), the Enoses are revealed to be casual transvestites (are they father and son, or are they lovers?), and there are some jokes about VD. Justice also picks up a horny, tall cowgirl. There is also a brief scene wherein Junior Justice falls in with a group of nudists.
There is a scene where a truck of Klansmen harass a pair of innocent black men. The Klansmen are summarily tarred and feathered.
The original version of this film was called Smokey IS the Bandit, and Gleason was to play both Buford Justice and a new version of Bandit. Jerry Reed wasn't going to be in the film at all. Some last-minute shoots and re-writes (after bad test marketing) changed it into what we see; a pretty rotten and not very funny movie. There is a scene at the end where Buford finally catches up with Jerry Reed dressed as the Bandit, and Buford sees him as Burt Reynolds. Gleason and Reynolds have a conversation – in a very Batman fashion – that they need each other to survive. Reynolds clearly only appeared on set for a few hours to shoot this cameo.
Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 is a cartoonish mess of a movie that feels slapped together. Its titillation is forced, and the car crashes are perfunctory (how many times can we watch a sheriff's car crash through something?). And the charm is gone. I think by 1983, audiences were pretty much done with the CB Southern Truckstop craze, and moving into slapstick territory. The marketplace was now choked with Star Wars ripoffs, slashers, and Police Academy movies. Smokey and the Bandit was already a relic.
11 years later, however, nostalgia would rear its ugly head, and give us four more of these things in straight-to-TV form, all starring Brian Bloom. Be sure to join me next week for my analysis of Bandit: Bandit Goes Country, Bandit: Bandit's Silver Angel, Bandit: Beauty and the Bandit, and the final film Bandit: Bandit, Bandit. Yes, that is the real title. It's a real movie.
Witney Seibold is the head film critic for Nerdist, and a contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel, and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. You can read his weekly articles Trolling, and The Series Project, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.