Discussing the frothy action/comedy hit The Cannonball Run (1981), a snide critic once said that the picture seemed like an incidental byproduct of an enjoyable party, as if playing characters and telling a story was a secondary consideration for those involved. To a certain degree, the same observation could be made of all the lowbrow movies that stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham made with his buddy, leading man Burt Reynolds. The duo’s first effort, Smokey and the Bandit (1977), is a goofy romp made somewhat tolerable by lighthearted performances and spectacular car jumps. Their second and best movie together, Hooper (1978), comes dangerously close to having a heart, since it’s a loving homage to stuntman. But then comes the slippery slope comprising Smokey and the Bandit II, The Cannonball Run (1981), Stroker Ace (1983), and Cannonball Run II (1984). Each is dumber and lazier than the preceding. The problem, of course, is that Needham never really left his identity as a stuntman behind, so he offers little except the ability to stage automotive disasters and fistfights. Smokey and the Bandit II, for example, so enervated that the plot is virtually the same as the original picture’s narrative.
While trucker Cledus “Snowman” Snow (Jerry Reed) and his escort driver, Bo “Bandit” Darville (Reynolds), haul illegal cargo through the Deep South, redneck Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) follows them “in hot pursuit.” Meanwhile, Carrie (Sally Field) once again leaves Justice’s idiot son at the altar in order to join her once-and-future lover, Bandit, on the road. The “twists” this time are as follows: the cargo is an elephant, a wacky Italian doctor (Dom DeLuise) tags along to care for the elephant, and Justice enlists his two brothers (both played by Gleason) for aid in the final showdown. Smokey and the Bandit II comprises 100 mindless minutes of car crashes, country-music performances, drinking scenes, redneck clichés, slapstick, and (thanks to Gleason) unbearable overacting. It’s hard to know whether Field and Reynolds returned for the party or the paycheck, or simply out of loyalty to Needham, but even describing their participation as half-hearted would require exaggerating. The elephant probably gives the picture’s best performance. Incredibly, Smokey and the Bandit II made enough money to warrant a third installment, the execrable Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 (1983), which was produced without Needham’s participation, and in which Reynolds makes only a brief cameo appearance. A decade later, Needham somewhat pathetically resurrected the franchise with a quartet of TV movies (all originally aired in 1994) featuring Brian Bloom as “Bandit.”
Smokey and the Bandit II: LAME