SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT II
"I'll do what I do best...show off."
THE INSIDE TRACK
"Smokey and the Bandit II" was a no brainer. The first was a tremendous hit. In this day, when sequels are pumped out to anything and everything ("The Whole Ten Yards", "Analyze That", "Miss Congeniality 2: Actually fucking subtitled 'Armed and Fabulous'!!!!, anyone? I'm serious...anyone?????) it's hard to believe that audiences would actually WANT a second helping of anything that's not "Star Wars" or "Spider-Man". Well they did with "Smokey". The first one was such a surprise hit that it was obvious that a sequel was gonna happen and in the summer of 1980, it did. "Smokey II" was nowhere near the hit the first one was, but it still managed to hit so big at the box office that Universal was determined a "Smokey III" be made...even without Burt and Needham (turned out the franchise wasn't that strong without its star and director- "Smokey III" bombed horribly.) Anyway, "Smokey II" ended up grossing about half what its predecessor did. Still, its $67 million in 1980 is well over $100 million in 2005 dollars, so we're talking a significant hit.
Funnily enough, one of the outtakes from "Smokey II" obtained a small measure of notoriety, when it was used in the outtakes of the Will Ferrell comedy "Anchorman", presumably as a satire of the whole 'outtakes' obsession Hollywood now has. This is no surprise as apparently Ferrell was so obsessed with "Smokey" that he showed up at the offices of "Saturday Night Live" dressed as Jerry Reed's character for close to a year. This (and the existence of "Stroker Ace") explains "Taladega Nights".
This one opens with the Bandit drunk and depressed and Frog coming back for one last round up. At the time, this was the state of Burt and Sally's relationship. They'd recently broken up, and she was enticed back with a huge wad of money, having won the Oscar the year before for "Norma Rae". The scene where they meet again for, uh, the first time, was largely written by Sally herself- who had a few things to get off her chest, evidently.
If you liked the first one, you may find this one a bit weird to begin with. There's a whole pissed drunk sequence played for laughs, with Burt a total mess, and as the film goes on, the Bandit plays hard to like, and IS hard to like. But when it gets going, it's got everything the first film had, just BIGGER. Why destroy a bridge, when you could destroy a roller coaster? Why destroy one or two cop cars when you could have a full on, balls out, demolition derby? Why have Jackie Gleason play one incompetent cop when he could play three? Why just drive around with a dog, when you could drive around with an elephant? This movie has it both ways. On one hand, it looks at how the Bandit handles his legendary status (uh, badly) and gives him an actual arc (he likes himself in the end), on the other hand, it's got sequelitis- the disease where the sequel has to be the same as the first film...but MORE! MORE! MORE! Don't get me wrong though, here's a lot to like in "Smokey II". It's broader than the first film, but not "Cannonball Run II" broad. The sequence where Bandit dares Smokey to prove how well he can shoot is funny, and is the S/B saga in a nutshell. The demolition derby sequence is awesome for fans of smash and crash- yes, I am one of those fans. The opening with Jerry Reed racing around a track to "Texas Bound and Flying" is a great, high energy opening. Fans of the first film will not be disapointed.
THOUGHTS WHILE WATCHING
For an idea of how influential "Smokey and the Bandit" was, take a look at the other big comedy release of summer 1980, "The Blues Brothers". "Smokey II" tries to top its predecessor with the big demolition derby scene, and while that scene is pretty spectacular, its got nothing on the vehicular mayhem on screen in "The Blues Brothers". "Blues" is a mix of music, "Animal House" style comedy, and, for my money, the best car chases ever put on film. That everyone involved with "Blues" felt that extensive automobile action had to be a part of a big comedy is a testament to "Smokey's" influence on the cinema of the day.
Brenda Lee, Statler Brothers, Mean Joe Green, Mel Tillis, Terry Bradshaw
Available from Universal Home video, most recently as part of their 'Franchise Collection'. This set includes all three "Smokey and the Bandit" movies on one disc. No extras, not even trailers, but the trilogy is presented in widescreen.
Burt Reynolds, Jackie Gleason, Jerry Reed, Sally Field, Dom DeLuise, Paul Williams, Pat McCormick, Fred the Dog, Charlotte the Elephant