By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: On the road again.
Hal Needham is to bad movies like a cow is to milk and yet when compared to his later efforts this really isn’t too bad especially when you factor in that the main goal was to create light entertainment, which is what this amounts to.
The ‘story’ involves truck driver Cledus (Jerry Reed) bootlegging beer across state lines. Partner Bandit (Burt Reynolds) acts as a decoy by driving in front of the truck in a car with a souped up engine. Jackie Gleason plays the sheriff out to get them.
The set-up could have been played out more and would have been funnier if it had. Sally Field is a nice addition and has a rare turn of being portrayed as a sexy lady. Her initial banter with Reynolds is fun, but having their relationship immediately turn romantic bogs everything down. It would have worked better had things stayed slightly antagonistic and then turned lovey-dovey only at the very end.
Reynolds has always had great charm and it’s played to the hilt here. His laugh alone is infectious, but he seems a little bit too laid back and detached. He goes through all sorts of wild car chases, but neither he nor is car ever receive even a little scratch. The police are also too inept and it would have been nice if they had, even momentarily, apprehended Reynolds just too prove they were a viable threat and given this thing a little tension.
Gleason is fun and his presence gives this film most of its points. Unlike Reynolds he isn’t so detached and he infuses his part with a lot of energy. His ad-libbed scatological lines at the beginning are great as is his coined “sumbitch” phrase. Seeing him stubbornly continue to drive his squad car even as it becomes increasingly smashed up is a good piece visually.
However, the film tends to water-down his character, which was a mistake. The biggest problem is the fact that he is initially portrayed as an intimidating figure. Then it proceeds to show him constantly out ranked and out managed by the other police forces in all the other counties he goes into while chasing Reynolds. Eventually it makes him seem too ineffectual and stupid. It would have worked better had the chase taken place solely in Gleason’s county, therefore having him stay funny, but still maintaining his menacing presence. It also would have been nice to have more direct confrontations between him and Reynolds although the one they do have is pretty good.
Needham was a former stunt man so the actual star of the picture is supposed to be the stunt work, but this area seems pretty derivative and features stuff that has been done hundreds of times before. The chases should’ve been extended and shot from more exciting angles. The climatic chase sequence is weak and can’t even hold a pinkie to the one used in The Blues Brothers.
Overall though it has enough good banter and star chemistry to be amiable.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: May 27, 1977
Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes
Director: Hal Needham
Available: VHS, DVD, HDDVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video