- Movie Rating -

Smokey and the Bandit II (1980)

| August 15, 1980

I think I would much preferred to have seen Bandit take that 18-hour run to Boston for clam chowder.

Like no other movie that Hal Needham ever made, Smokey and the Bandit II fully exposes both his great strength and his varied weaknesses as a filmmaker.

He can’t write comedy.  This is obvious.  I never sensed that anything that Jackie Gleason says came from the page – his jokes all seem ad-libbed.  Needham employs, this time, the clever gimmick of having Gleason play several characters.  Aside from Buford T. Justice, Gleason also plays Buford’s gay cousin Gaylord and his brother-in-law Reggie (a twist on Reginald Van Gleason III).  The problem is that he never uses these characters at all.  They come into the movie very late, are barely introduced and then vanish from the movie all together.  What was the point?

He can’t write characters.  The script is never able to overcome a very uncomfortable relationship between Burt Reynolds and Sally Field.  The characters have broken up and if you know that Burt and Sally broke up while this movie was being made, that makes their romantic fight scenes seem all the more uncomfortable.  Additionally, Needham is trying to play up the Reynolds’ rumored star ego and as a result, the laid-back character from the first movie is turned into an insufferable ego-maniac.  We literally want to get away from this guy.  Plus, there is no consistency.  The movie opens with the Bandit as a washed-out drunk who is completely sobered up by the time he and Cletus hit the road – it’s never brought up again.

He can’t write a plot.  His big idea in this sequel is for Bandit, and his buddy Cletus, to transport a pregnant elephant from Florida to Texas for a GOP Rally in Dallas.  Okay, that’s different from the first movie, I’ll give him that.  But they don’t really do anything with it.  Lots of jokes involving Bandit trying to get rid of the animal and the animal falling in love with Bandit.  Actually, he has better chemistry in this movie with the elephant than he does with Sally.

What Hal Needham can do is organize loud and obnoxious stunts – which is fitting given his long history as a Hollywood stunt coordinator.  This movie is so over-loaded with these stunts that you sense that he put them in as an alternative to having to actually write scenes.  He’s doubled-down on the stunts in this sequel and the climax is a demolition derby between police cars and semi-trucks that would humble George Miller.  They could have collaborated on a Mad Max movie.

So, what we have is a movie that isn’t funny, has embarrassing characters and uses car crashes as a compensation for doing anything really creative.  I can’t say much more about this movie except to say that at least Needham was playing to his strengths.  Too bad he didn’t learn from them.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1980) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized