To certain generations, the mere mention of the words “Smokey and the Bandit” will instantly splash a wry smile across their chops. And now, all three Smokey and the Bandit movies – no, we’re not counting those later TV specials either – have been given a spruced-up Blu-ray release courtesy of Fabulous Films.
Plot-wise… well, plot-wise, there really isn’t all that much to any of the Smokey trilogy. But whilst the plot is minimum, all three movies are overflowing with fast cars, exhilarating chase sequences, foot-tapping musical numbers, instantly quotable dialogue, Fred the basset hound, and, of course, a magnitude of marvelous, masterful moustaches. Despite being all largely similar in plot, however, all three Smokey and the Bandit efforts certainly vary in quality.
In the first film, charming rogue The Bandit (Burt Reynolds) loves nothing more than a cold beer, a hot set of wheels and a hot piece of ass. When he takes on the job of running some illegal booze across country, he soon finds himself being chased by the long arm of the law, Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) and his klutz of a son, Junior (Mike Henry). Luckily The Bandit has his old pal The Snowman (Jerry Reed) to keep an eye out for him on the road, although the mustachioed smooth-talking speedster also finds himself picking up Frog (Sally Field) on his travels, and her having just jilted Junior at the alter means even more trouble on the horizon for our main man.
With Smokey and the Bandit II – or Smokey and the Bandit Ride Again as it’s been known over the years – we again see The Bandit, Frog, Snowman, Buford T. Justice and Junior all back for the ride. The Bandit winds up becoming involved in another cross-country run, although this time an elephant becomes an unwanted part of the plan as we see a slightly different take on the central character compared to the first time around. Here, Bandit is a man in need of finding his spark once more. As the movie opens, Frog has left him and he’s spending his days trying to find answers at the bottom of bottles. With a newfound fame from his previous shenanigans, Smokey II doesn’t paint the Bandit character in exactly a great light. In fact, for large parts of the film’s second half, you’ll find him to be quite the unlikable prick. With seven times the budget of the original movie, and with a monumental spectacle in the final act, the sequel ultimately lacks some of the heart of its predecessor despite having a far greater budget and scope.
In the threequel, Smokey and the Bandit III, Burt Reynolds’ Bandit moniker is actually handed over to Jerry Reed’s Snowman. And going one step further, it’s actually the Smokey of the franchise, Buford T. Justice, who finds himself challenged to speed across the country, this time as part of a bet with no-good series mainstays Big Enos (Pat McCormick) and Little Enos (Paul Williams). Snowman’s Bandit – complete with a car, outfit, and moustache that all scream Burt Reynolds – ends up involved in the trek, and again shenanigans begin to escalate. Interestingly, Sheriff Justice was supposed to be both Smokey and The Bandit here, but test screenings saw that scrapped and The Snowman turned into The Bandit.
As a franchise, Smokey and the Bandit was certainly one that saw the quality drop as it went on, but the original still stands up as a remarkably entertaining way to spend 90 minutes or so, and it’s a true time capsule of just how charming and entertaining Burt Reynolds could be in his pomp. The sequel, which has been much-maligned by many over the years since its 1980 release, is nowhere near as bad as you may think, and there’s even some great, poignant moments as Sally Field’s Frog brings the cocksure Bandit crashing back down to earth (which in truth was mirroring the real-life break up of Field and Reynolds). Where Smokey III is concerned, Jackie Gleason is again brilliantly bullish as the arrogant, quip-spouting ball of rage known as Buford T. Justice, but Jerry Reed’s Bandit-lite just makes you miss the presence of Burt Reynolds. And in terms of put downs and insults, they don’t get any finer than the zingers handed out by Gleason’s Buford throughout all three films.
What you likely really want to know here, though, is whether this new release of three movies that were originally released in 1977, 1980 and 1983, respectively, is worth picking up. Well, sadly, the extras are pitiful on this new release. In this whole trilogy, the only special feature or bonus material included is a trailer for Smokey and the Bandit II. Given the attention and care that has gone in to sprucing up these films for Blu-ray, it’s massively disappointing to see no documentaries, interviews, retrospectives, etc. The actually films though? They look utterly brilliant, with the HD restoration of each movie making them very much feel like films of their time yet also giving them a freshness and crispness that makes the thrill rides feel as engaging and attention-sapping as they’ve ever been.
For fans of the series, the cleaned-up Blu-ray transfer of all three Smokey films will make this a must-have, just don’t be expecting anything of note when it comes to bonus material.
Special Features: Smokey and the Bandit II trailer
SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT 1, 2 & 3 – THE COMPLETE COLLECTION / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: HAL NEEDHAM, DICK LOWRY / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: BURT REYNOLDS, JACKIE GLEASON, SALLY FIELD, JERRY REED, MIKE HENRY / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 21ST