Friday, May 6, 2011

W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975)

          One of the more offbeat titles in Burt Reynolds’ long litany of Southern-fried ’70s action/comedies, this charming-ish romp stars Reynolds as W.W. Bright, an amiable outlaw stealing and swindling his way through the Deep South in the 1950s. Through convoluted circumstances, he ends up enlisting a struggling country band called the Dixie Dancekings as accomplices in a series of nonviolent stick-ups. The musicians participate willingly because W.W. turns out to be a swell manager, using his gift of gab to trick promoters into giving the band better gigs and fatter paychecks.
          Among those pursuing the outlaws is a gun-toting religious nut named Deacon (Art Carney), whose presence lends an odd flavor to the movie’s requisite car chases. Carney goes way over the top with his performance, which seems like it belongs in a different movie than the one featuring easygoing Reynolds and his rhinestone-festooned buddies, and the film suffers because leading lady Conny Von Dyke lacks charisma.
          As directed by no-nonsense craftsman John G. Avildsen, the movie zips along at a strong pace, somewhat to its detriment; the picture is so thin on character development that audiences are expected to accept outlandish contrivances at face value. So, for instance, it’s a given that lead singer Dixie (Van Dyke) will fall for rascally W.W. simply because that’s what happens in movies, and it’s a given that Deacon is perpetually unable to capture W.W. simply because, well, that’s what happens in movies. The weak characterization makes everything that happens in the movie feel inconsequential, so even though several scenes are entertaining and the movie in general is quite watchable, nothing sticks in the memory very long after the last credit rolls.
          Still, for Reynolds fans, the picture offers plenty of cinematic comfort food, from the leading man’s wisecrackery to the presence of frequent Reynolds costars Ned Beatty, Jerry Reed, and Mel Tillis. Reed in particular stands out as the hot-tempered leader of the Dancekings, because his fights with W.W. for control over the band-cum-gang have more energy than other scenes; as the actors later demonstrated in projects like the blockbuster Smokey and the Bandit series, Reed and Reynolds have a smooth rhythm together.

W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings: FUNKY

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