Smokey and the Bandit II (Blu-ray Review)
PG – 101mins – 1980

OPERATION DUMBO DROP

With Hal Needham’s 1977 stunt-athon car comedy proving such a runaway success (hauling in over $300 million against a comparatively micro $4.3 million budget), sequels were a shoe-in, and Burt Reynolds, Sally Fields, Jerry Reed and Jackie Gleason all gamely belted up and got back behind the wheel to “ride again” three years later for Smokey and the Bandit II.

“The circus must be in town!”

Sticking inflexibly to the same template which brought in the dough first time around, II presents another opportunity for Bo “Bandit” Darville (Reynolds) and Cledus “The Snowman” Snow (Reed) to hit the road and go cross country on a less-than-legal collection job for father and mini-me clone the Enoses (Pat McCormick and Paul Williams). The fact that the catalytic odd couple don’t feature again after the initial pay-off shows how inessential to proceedings they are.

After getting together first time around, Bandit and Carrie’s (Field) relationship has soured, forcing him back on the bottle and her – bewilderingly – back to slow-witted sheriff’s son Junior (Mike Henry)! I really struggled with this plot point because the marriage first time around seemed like a set-up she was elated to escape, so why she would ever dream of returning to such a sap-brained doofus – much less agree to marry him again – absolutely beggars belief and damages her character’s integrity.

It’s just one in a series of ‘convenient’ contrivances to bring Jackie Gleason’s catchphrase-spouting antagonist back in “hot pursuit” of the glamourous and egomaniacal antiheroes. With cartoon cars chasing each other around the opening Universal Pictures logo, the tone really is set early: Smokey and the Bandit II is an exaggerated and cornier carbon copy of the first film, lazy in construction and frequently playing to the lowest common denominator. Par exemple: a pregnant elephant replaces Coors Beer as the crated cargo of choice, Reynolds breaks the fourth wall with a line to the audience and Gleason hams it up something rotten in a trio of clichéd pantomime performances.

“The way things look, I’m beginning to become deeply concerned!”

You and me both, Bo! When the most positive thing you can say about this execrable escapade is that the climax showcases the “world’s biggest game of chicken” (allegedly over $250,000 worth of cars were destroyed for the set piece) then you know the human and dramatic elements aren’t much cop. Panned by critics upon theatrical release but still popular with ticket buyers, Smokey and the Bandit IIis testament that bigger isn’t always better.

Vapid, hackneyed and landing on the unconvincing side of frivolous, it’s no wonder that Universal Pictures farmed out the restoration job on this new Blu-ray release to an outside company. Therefore, while the classic original film in this Fabulous Films trilogy boxset has the stock Universal menu screens and an array of language and subtitle options, II gets a rougher ride. I can’t bemoan the menu screen, which grants the film its own identity, but there are zero language, subtitle or set-up options, with the only special feature being a decidedly scratchy and low-def copy of the original theatrical trailer.

The restoration job, too, is less refined than on the first Smokey, with some scenes (particularly at the beginning) appearing far grainier. There are even a couple of instances (the opening trucker’s rodeo and inside the governor’s office) of blurriness, although overall the upgrade just about passes muster. Shame I can’t say the same for the film itself.

CR@B’s Claw Score: **

The Smokey and the Bandit Complete Collection Blu-ray is out to buy now through Fabulous Films, and many thanks to them for the review disc.