LAUGHING STOCK OF TEXAS

15 – 85mins – 1983

“Once upon a time, there was a famous sheriff. It was not so long ago in our very own galaxy…”

Opening with a hardly inventive Star Wars riff followed by nearly three minutes of sepia-hued highlights from films one and two underscored by Burt Reynolds laugh being dubbed in thrice, Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 (as the title card reads) does not exactly get off to a flying start. And then things go really downhill…

Save for a dream sequence cameo, Reynolds is – wisely – absent from this hammy, hi-jinks-heavy disaster. Sally Fields’ “Frog” isn’t even mentioned. Step up rampant one-man-show Jackie Gleason, who – so the original plan went – intended to play both Smokey and the Bandit this time out, until test audiences gave his wacky vision a thumbs down (and who can blame them? It was bad enough when he played Justice’s brothers in II), leading to a last minute recall for Jerry Reed’s Cledus “The Snowman” Snow, who is reinserted into proceedings as the new “Bandit”.

“By now they had pretty much given up,” so reads the brutally honest press release which accompanied my review copy of this new Blu-ray transfer from Fabulous Films. It’s hard to disagree with this statement as everyone hams it up horrendously (Jerry Reed seems constantly high, he’s so frantic and agitated) leading to a film which plays more like a string of illogical comedy sketches than a linear or logical narrative. At one point Junior (Mike Henry) gets run over, yet suffers nothing more severe than tyre marks on his shirt!

The plot, for what it’s worth, sees pot-stirring sideliners the Enoses (Pat McCormick and Paul Williams) convince a retiring Buford T. Justice that he should participate in one last challenge: owing to his failure to capture the Bandit, he can regain his honour – and $250,000 – if he makes it from Miami to Texas in 24 hours. Justice initially refuses, but retire doesn’t agree with him, so he belatedly accepts the challenge, well aware that if he loses the Enoses will take his “tin star” (Sheriff’s badge).

What the Enoses didn’t tell him was that this is all a farcical excuse for some headline-garnering advertising for their new Fish and Chip business. So, with a shark prop tied atop his cop car, Buford and his dim-witted son take off, unaware that his challengers have no intention of paying him the money, trailing him (in all manner of ever-more-ridiculous disguises) all the way and convincing Cledus to get in on the action by delaying his old foe long enough to fail.

Replacing his rig for a sleek and speedy Pontiac, Cledus is joined on the road by job-deserting Dusty (Collee Camp), who takes on a crude rehash of Sally Field’s role in the original film – right down to changing her clothes while sat in the seat next to the new “Bandit” – but without any character of her own! Once she has sat herself in the passenger seat, she is simply a cipher for Cledus to talk at, with no motivation or purpose whatsoever.

Increasingly desperate, Smokey and the Bandit III descends into a barrage of bumbling buffoonery (“Put a ‘lil lipstick on, I’ll drop you off at a gay bar!”). It’s comedy for the sake of time-filling, boobs and bums for the sake of gratuity and stunts for the sake of stunts. It all just feels so forced and embarrassingly laboured, with the barrel definitely scraped when a car-load of hood-wearing KKK members harass a pair of black farmers – in a “comedy”! My jaw dropped, my brow creased and my faith shrank exponentially, but not once did my lips curl into a smile.

Much like the first sequel, Fabulous Film’s Smokey and the Bandit III Blu upgrade is a ho-hum affair. The remaster job is efficient but hardly masterful (grain and blurring still occur from time to time), while the disc is granted strictly vanilla treatment, even missing the trailer which accompanied its predecessor. No subtitles, no set-up menu and only a scene selection option to enliven the menu screen, which is accompanied by Buford’s infuriatingly catchy theme song, performed by Ed Bruce.

CR@B’s Claw Score: *

The Smoky and the Bandit trilogy is out on Blu-ray from Fabulous Films now, and many thanks to them for the review disc.