Smokey and the Bandit is a simple film. Burt Reynolds is the Bandit. He’s hired by two bored brothers to smuggle beer from Texas to Georgia. Working with the Snowman (Jerry Reed), Bandit is easily able to pick up the beer but it’s while driving back that the two of them run afoul Smokey, a.k.a. Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason, who reportedly improvised most of his profane lines). Bandit also picks up a hitchhiker and runaway bride (Sally Field) who he calls Frog.
There’s not much to Smokey and the Bandit. The Bandit has an incredibly cool car and he drives really fast. Snowman is funny and has a dog. Smokey has a dumb son and is constantly threatening to hit people. It’s a dumb movie but it works. The cars are fast, the crashes are spectacular, and the entire film is the perfect daydream for when you’re sitting in your office at work and wondering whether there’s something more rewarding you could be doing with your life.
Who hasn’t wanted to the Bandit at some point in their life?
Who hasn’t wanted to get behind the wheel of black trans am and just take off, driving down country roads while giving the slip to old Smoky and joking with Snowman on your CB radio and maybe picking up a young Sally Field while smuggling beer and winning a bet?
(There’s been a lot of terrible moments on The Family Guy but, for me, one of the absolute worst was when Brian Griffin went into the past and asked 70s Burt Reynolds, “So, you’re going to go get some of that hot Sally Field action, huh?” Anyone who has seen Smokey and the Bandit knows that Sally Field was smoking hot back in 1977!)
Smokey and the Bandit comes to us from a different time. No one worries about what speeding halfway across the country in a little over 24 hours is doing to the environment. No one apologizes for who they are or where they’re from. The Bandit lives by a simple rule: Treat him with respect and he’ll treat you with respect. Talk down to him or try to tell him what to do and the Bandit’s just going to jump in his car and leave you standing in a cloud of dust.
During the latter part of his career, Burt Reynolds would often lament that appearing in financially successful but critically lambasted films like Smokey and the Bandit made him a huge star but also kept him from getting the type of roles that he felt he deserved. Reynolds was right but there are worse things than being known as The Bandit. For many, Burt Reynolds will always be the Bandit because he was so perfectly cast for the role. Not many actors could pull off the scene where, after fooling a cop, the Bandit looks straight at the camera and grins. Burt Reynolds could. Playing the Bandit may have never won Burt Reynolds an Academy Award but it did make him an American icon.
If you’re feeling down, watch Smokey and the Bandit. If you need an escape, watch Smokey and the Bandit. It demands so little and gives so much.