The first Smokey and the Bandit is a classic. What about the sequels?
Smokey and the Bandit II (1980, directed by Hal Needham)
The gang’s all back in this sequel to Smokey and the Bandit! Burt Reynolds is the Bandit! Jackie Gleason is Sheriff Buford T. Justice and his two brothers, Reginald and Gaylord! Jerry Reed is Snowman! Sally Field is Carrie! Pat McCormick and Paul Williams are Big and Little Enos! Mike Henry is Junior! Dom DeLuise is an Italian doctor! Terry Bradshaw and Mean Joe Greene play themselves! There’s an elephant!
You get the idea. Smokey and the Bandit II promises more of the same. In some ways, it delivers. There are some entertaining stunts. The finale features what was, at the time, the biggest car chase ever filmed. But Smokey and the Bandit II fails at the most important part. It fails to recreate the fun of the first film. Everyone is just going through the motions. Burt Reynolds later said that he only made the film as a favor to Hal Needham while Sally Field said that she agreed to appear in the film as a favor to Burt Reynolds. Jackie Gleason did the movie because he needed the money but, because he was also in poor health, he requested that his scenes be filmed first and that they be filmed quickly. That the three stars didn’t have much enthusiasm for the project is obvious while watching the movie.
This time, Big Enos wants the Bandit to transport an elephant to the Republican National Convention in Dallas. The Bandit, however, has been an alcoholic wreck ever since Carrie left him to, for some reason, get back with Junior. Snowman manages to sober up the Bandit and, after they help Carrie run out on her wedding for a second time, it’s time to transport an elephant.
In hot pursuit, Sheriff Justice gets help from his brothers, all of whom are also played by Gleason. Reginald Justice is a Canadian Mountie who speaks with a posh accent that is in no way Canadian. Gaylord Justice is a flamboyant state patrolman. Whenever the brothers talk to each other, doubles are used. There are a few split screen shots that are so ineptly handled that it ends up looking like a page from a comic book with each Gleason standing in a separate panel. The end credits list Gaylord as having been played by “Ms. Jackie Gleason,” just in case you’re wondering the level of this film’s humor.
Dom DeLuise gets some laughs as an Italian doctor who is recruited to take care of the elephant but otherwise, this is a depressing movie. Burt Reynolds and Sally Field were on the verge of breaking up when this film was made and neither one of them acts their scenes with much enthusiasm. Watching the movie, it’s impossible not to compare their strong chemistry in the first movie to their total lack of it in the second movie. There’s a subplot about the Bandit trying to prove that, even though he’s getting older, he’s still a legend and, for those who know anything about Burt Reynolds’s career, it hits too close to home. Combining that with the sight of an obviously unwell Jackie Gleason and you’ve got a surprisingly depressing comedy.
There is one cool thing about Smokey and the Bandit II. After the critics thoroughly roasted the film, Hal Needham took out a one-page ad in Variety. The ad was a picture of Needham sitting in a wheel barrow full of money. That’s one way to answer your critics!
Smokey and the Bandit 3 (1983, directed by Dick Lowry)
Smokey and the Bandit 3 is even more depressing than the second film. Not surprisingly, Sally Field is nowhere to be found. She had broken up with Burt after the second film and was busy pursuing a career as the type of actress who didn’t appear in car chase films. Burt does appear in the film but he only makes a cameo appearance, showing up for a few minutes at the end with a resigned look on his face as if he realized that he was never going to escape being typecast as an aging good ol’ boy. Also not returning was Hal Needham. Needham was busy directing Stroker Ace so he was replaced by Dick Lowry. What type of director was Dick Lowry? Other than Smokey and the Bandit 3, Lowry’s best known credit is for Project Alf.
Jackie Gleason, Jerry Reed, Pat McCormick, Mike Henry, and Paul Williams all return but none of them look happy to be there. The plot is that Sheriff Buford T. Justice has retired to Florida but he just can’t turn down a challenge from Big Enos and Little Enos to drive a stuffed shark from Miami to Dallas. Smokey is the Bandit! (That was originally the title of this film.) When it looks like Buford is doing too good of a job of transporting the shark, the Enoses hire Snowman to chase Buford and slow him down. It doesn’t make any sense and Jerry Reed and Jackie Gleason don’t share any scenes together despite co-starring in the film. Supposedly, Gleason was originally cast as two characters — Buford and the man hired to slow Buford down — but when preview audiences were confused by the film, the studio demanded reshoots. Jerry Reed was brought back and all of the scenes featuring Gleason as the new Bandit were reshot with Reed. Reed even grew a mustache, wore a red shirt, and broke the fourth wall just like Burt did in the first film.
Not surprisingly, Smokey and the Bandit 3 is a disjointed mess that doesn’t even have any spectacular car crashes to justify its existence. Jerry Reed is as amiable as he was in the first two films but Jackie Gleason’s Buford Justice was never meant to be a lead character. In small doses, he was funny but Buford was too one-dimensional of a character to build an entire film around.
Smokey and the Bandit 3 was a failure with critics and at the box office so the Bandit’s adventures came to a temporary end. Years later, Hal Needham produced four made-for-TV prequels the starred Brian Bloom as a young Bandit. I haven’t seen them. If I ever do, I’ll review them.