There is little chance of Smokey And The Bandit being considered highbrow in terms of its plot; and yet it is a ridiculously entertaining way to spend an hour and a half. Two cowboy truckers, Bo “Bandit” Darville (Reynolds) and Cledus “Snowman” Snow (Reed) are tasked with bootlegging a trailer full of Coors beer all the way from Texas to Georgia, simply to satisfy the extravagant thirsts at a Southern shindig. Along the way they get involved in the sort of scrapes and adventures that only two “good ol' boys” can, while evading the clutches of the erstwhile and highly determined Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Gleeson).
Smokey And The Bandit was launched on unsuspecting audiences in 1977, and alongside more “serious” cinema fare such as Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Saturday Night Fever and the behemoth that is Star Wars, somehow managed to be one of the biggest films of the year. A surprise blockbuster in every sense Smokey caught the public's imagination through it's unavoidable Southern charm and frenetic energy that keeps the film's pace speeding along; even if effectively many of the scenes are variations on the same simple theme.
Car chase, therefore, follows car chase as the stunt-filled action descends into destruction derby-esque carnage, and the inherently inept law enforcement unsuccessfully pursues the coolest driver on the planet across curiously empty highways, down dusty tracks and even airborne over rivers! The gas-fuelled spectacle that the film develops into, once the pleasantries are out of the way, is hugely entertaining, with Reynolds clearly relishing a role that allows him to play up to the camera through his effervescent mischief-making. This is Reynolds clearly at his peak, drawing the camera in with effortless charisma, as if tantalising a new lover.
Viewed through today's eyes some of the one-liners and ad-libbed “banter” seem a little out-dated, with everyone from women to black people on the receiving end of bluntly delivered put-downs. There is also the hollow role that is Sally Field's love interest Carrie. Apparently talked into taking the part by then boyfriend Reynolds, it is a pointless character that provides nothing more than a foil for some questionable gags, and leads to an awkward romantic interlude out of tune with the rest of the film.
There is no doubt, though, that despite it's flaws Smokey And The Bandit deserves to be considered as an American classic. From the catchy sing-a-long theme song to the glint of Reynold's perfectly white smile, this is a film to be celebrated for what it is, rather than what it isn't. Crack open a Coors, grab some potato chips, and simply enjoy the ride.
SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (1977) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: HAL NEEDHAM / SCREENPLAY: JAMES LEE BARRETT, CHARLES SHYER, ALAN MANDEL / STARRING: BURT REYNOLDS, SALLY FIELD, JACKIE GLEASON, JERRY REED / RELEASE DATE: 28TH MARCH