Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Texas Bound and Flyin'

In my previous post, I talked about my adolescent memories of seeing Smokey and the Bandit. While I was growing tired of the car chase formula, the unabashed silliness and fast-paced action of Smokey sucked me in. When the sequel was announced, I wasn't so sure they could strike lightning twice, and I had no intention of seeing the movie when it came out. Things changed, however.

By the time I got my driver's license, Smokey and the Bandit II was in the theatres. In fact, on the day after I received my license, my mom let me borrow the car for the day and my friend Vince and I went out to exploit our new found freedom. We ended up at the mall where we wanted to see a movie. Unfortunately, the only film at the multiplex that was not rated R (we were both still under 17) was the new Smokey movie. Although I liked the first one, I had bad feelings about the sequel and my reservations were well founded.

Instead of a light, rapid-fire comedy, we were treated to a plodding, stupid story with a drunken, loser Bandit (Burt Reynolds) acting like an ass and generally bumming everyone out. In a nutshell, Big Enos and Little Enos Burdette (Pat McCormick and Paul Williams) resurface to make a proposition to Cledus "Snowman" Snow (Jerry Reed). They want Cledus and Bo "Bandit" Darville (Burt Reynolds) to transport a mystery package from Miami to Dallas, Texas in three days. Fairly simple, except the Bandit has disappeared. His 15 minutes of fame after the Texarkana to Altanta run had expired and Bo is now hiding in a sleazy Florida motel drinking himself to death. Meanwhile, Carrie (Sally Field) has left him and is about to once again marry the son of Sheriff Buford T. Justice. Justice (Jackie Gleason) is none too pleased with the arrangement, but when Carrie decides to run off again and save the Bandit, he holds her at gun point to stop her. After she escapes, Justice and his son (Mike Henry) are once again in "hot pursuit."

There's a lot of time wasted as Carrie and Cledus try to detoxify the Bandit. When they finally pick up the package, which turns out to be a female elephant, and get on the road, Justice has tracked them down and tries to stop them. From this point, the story plods along in fits and starts. The elephant turns out to be pregnant, so they pick up an Italian doctor (Dom Deluise) to watch after her. They have to stop frequently to accommodate the elephant's delicate condition, leaving plenty of time for Bo and Carrie to fight and for Bo to act like an insensitive jerk to the elephant. While the first movie was driven by the tight 28-hour deadline to get Coors Beer from Texarkana to Atlanta, there's no sense of urgency in the sequel and the gang spends most of the time out of their vehicles arguing with each other. Meanwhile, Buford T. Justice is supposed to be in "hot pursuit," but there is no explanation as to what he's up to while the heroes are mulling around. He just pops up conveniently when he's needed to chase them around.

Finally, in a feeble attempt to liven up the finale, Sheriff Justice enlists the help of his law officer cousins to lure the Bandit into an ambush. The ambush occurs in a desert environment where the law officers descend on the Bandit from the surrounding hills in their police cruisers. Although the visual metaphor of old-time movie Indians attacking the settlers in their stage coaches is obvious, the whole fiasco makes no sense since there are no desert areas anywhere between Miami and Dallas. Even if you are willing to suspend disbelief, dozens of cars smashing into each other like a demolition derby is not really the same as the thrill of watching high speed car stunts. It's just mindless destruction, and it gets monotonous real fast.

Since the theatre was mostly empty, Vince and I entertained ourselves by calling out remarks at the screen, mocking the whole mess while it spooled out onto the screen. The only redeeming factor was that I got to hear Buford's salty dialogue as it was meant to be heard, uttered by Jackie Gleason himself. As mentioned in the previous post, Gleason's redubbed dialogue for the TV version was voiced by character actor Henry Corden. As it would turn out, Corden would also provide the redubbed language in the TV version of the sequel. I still cringe at hearing Fred Flinstone's voice coming out of Gleason's mouth.

For days and weeks after seeing the debacle that was Smokey and the Bandit II, I kept pondering how the movie could have been so much better. By this time, I fancied myself a writer and had already scribbled out two novels, two screenplays, and numerous short stories. I knew I could come up with a better script than this horrid piece of junk.

At first, I thought the film would simply pick up where the last one left off. At the end of part one, the Enos's ask Bo, Carrie, and Cledus to run up to Boston and bring back a large quantity of baked beans. Since they only had 18 hours, perhaps they could employ airplanes or helicopters. Really open up the action. Then I thought better of that. After all, it had been three years later, and the filmmakers would want to use a new Trans Am, the iconic symbol of the series.

Fine, three years later it is. Although the Bandit could have built a celebrity status based on his stunts, he would still be facing numerous criminal charges from his behavior in the last movie. He would have to stay on the run or come to some arrangement with the law. Perhaps Carrie offers herself to Justice's son again as a way to get the sheriff to leave Bandit alone. Maybe she realizes that she can't stay with a guy like Bo long term, but she could still make a sacrifice for him out of love. That would provide some explanation for why she would try to marry Junior again, even if it was a weak one.

Okay, the Bandit is free and he is certainly no drunk, although he misses Carrie. The Enos's offer a big bet, but nothing involving cutesy elephants or kittens or koala bears. Maybe they have to bring Farrah Fawcett from Hollywood to take Little Enos's virginity? I don't know! Just keep the damn thing on the road and moving!

The feeble nature of the sequel's storyline only enhanced the unmistakeable sense that car chase movies were a thing of the past. All the CB jargon, so hip in the mid-70s, sounded tired and stupid by 1980. These characters and the whole genre was passe. When the chance to do a third movie cropped up, even Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds said, "no thanks." Jackie Gleason had other ideas though...

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