Thursday, November 17, 2022

#2,863. Smokey and the Bandit II (1980) - Burt Reynolds Triple Feature


You go into Smokey and the Bandit II, Hal Needham’s follow-up to his runaway 1977 hit, expecting more of the same.

No, check that; you go into this 1980 movie hoping for more of the same. Smokey and the Bandit was a box office smash because it was a fun little movie, with Burt Reynolds playing what would prove to be his most iconic character. The fact that Needham and company were able to reassemble the cast from the original, and throw in Dom DeLuise as well, gave me hope that this entry would be as entertaining as the first.

And it is… in spurts. Occasionally very, very short spurts.

Some time has passed since the events of Smokey and the Bandit. Frog (Sally Field) has left the Bandit (Reynolds), who, to get over his heartbreak, is drinking large quantities of beer. When Big Enos (Pat McCormick) and Little Enos (Paul Williams) offer a boatload of money for the Bandit to make another run, his longtime friend and traveling partner The Snowman (Jerry Reed) sobers Bandit up, and even convinces Frog to tag along on yet another adventure.

Of course, for Frog to do so, she will once again have to leave Junior (Mike Henry), son of Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason), standing at the altar (she agreed to finally marry him). Sheriff Justice, who is as ornery as ever, hasn’t forgotten how the Bandit humiliated him, and vows to finally apprehend his arch nemesis.

But Bandit, Frog and Snowman will have more on their plate than a Smokey in “hot pursuit”; it turns out the cargo they’ve been hired to drive from Miami to Texas is a 4-ton Elephant named Charlotte! And what’s more, she’s pregnant!

With an Italian gynecologist (DeLuise) looking after the elephant, they load her into Snowman’s truck and head for Texas. But will they make it before Charlotte gives birth?

Getting the original cast back together is one of Smokey and The Bandit II’s strongest points. Reynolds gets to do more than just drive and crack jokes this time out. He plays drunk in the opening scenes (quite well, actually), and even stretches his character a bit, hoping to complete this run not for the money, but to re-establish his standing as a folk hero. In fact, the very reason Frog left him in the first place was that his ego was out of control. Jerry Reed is also solid as Snowman, and occasionally acts as Bandit’s conscience, trying to convince him not to push so hard.

As for Sally Field’s reappearance as Frog, it raises a number of questions. Like, why did she go back to Junior? And if her break-up with Bandit was as hard on her as she says, why did she quickly agree to ride along with him again? Yes, there’s the money… Snowman offered her a piece of the take. But still…. (that said, it’s good to have her back all the same).

Stealing the show, however, is Jackie Gleason, who not only gets more screen time in the sequel, but plays two additional characters as well: Sheriff Justice’s brothers, Reggie and Gaylord, both of whom are also officers of the law. Buford’s steady stream of insults, mostly hurled at his son Junior, are a laugh riot. Also turning up in cameos are real-life NFL legends Terry Bradshaw, Mean Joe Greene, and Joe Klecko (playing themselves) and some country music stars as well, including the Statler Brothers and Don Williams, all of whom perform during the film. Speaking of music, Jerry Reed’s opening tune this time around, "Texas Bound and Flying", is not as good as the first film’s "Eastbound and Down", but it’s kinda catchy all the same.

Throw in a finale involving dozens of cars and about as many trucks, all smashing into each other in the middle of a desert, and you have a movie that certainly has its moments.

There just aren’t enough of them, unfortunately. Dom DeLuise gets a few laughs as the doctor with the stereotypical accent, but he never cuts loose like we know he can, and his character doesn’t develop beyond said stereotype. In addition, the party atmosphere that worked so well in Smokey and the Bandit (and, later, The Cannonball Run), where it felt as if we the audience were personally invited to what looked like a very good time had by cast and crew, falls flat in this movie, resulting in a number of scenes that either come up short or are far too silly. The recurring storyline of Charlotte the elephant having a crush on the Bandit is more groan-inducing than funny.

In the final round-up, I can’t decide if Smokey and the Bandit II was a fun movie with some major weaknesses, or a failure that occasionally hits the mark. By default, that makes it a middle of the road entry in Needham’s filmography, not as good as the first Smokey and the Bandit or Hooper, but not nearly as bad as Cannonball Run II or Stroker Ace. I can’t quite bring myself to recommend it wholeheartedly, but I wouldn’t tell you to avoid Smokey and the Bandit II either.
Rating: 5.5 out of 10

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