Friday, September 18, 2009

Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

Directed by Hal Needham. I have this theory that certain things have simple names so that the dumber people who like them can find them more easily. For example, this is why NASCAR has "car" right in the name and super-size K-Marts are just called Big K-Mart. "Smokey and the Bandit" is about a guy named Bandit and a police office nicknamed "Smokey" and I highly suspect an earlier draft of the script was called "Cars Going Fast." It also boasts a dual-purpose soundtrack that provides full narration in addition to the background music. The lyrics to its songs periodically recap everything you have seen, hint at what's to come, and just in case you've forgotten, remind you that that movie is about a guy named Bandit.

Ah, the Bandit. The Bandit has his own theme shoehorned into the middle of this cinematic masterwork, less like the other country and western pop song in this film than a romantic honky-tonk ballad crafted to accompany dubiously necessary visual of Burt Reynolds and Sally Field quietly humping in the breakdown lane of a Texas freeway. And it goes a little something like this:

"Well, they call you the Bandit,
You drive a car like a Bandit,
Wear a big hat like a Bandit,
Bandit, Bandit, Bandit
Can't stop sayin' Bandit"

I'd say it's the best song ever, except that it's not even close and in fact is much closer to worst song ever. This is not the song most people talk about when discussing this film. Most people talk about the incredibly catchy recurring "Eastbound and Down," which was a monster hit for Jerry Reed, who co-starred in the film with Reynolds and Field.

I'll say this, Reed always seemed to me to be a better actor than musician, which I suppose is less a compliment to his acting than a comment on his music, which is an abomination. If you haven't heard his biggest single, "When You're Hot, You're Hot," you must, simply as an example of just how close to NOT MUSIC music can get while still having rhythm, melody, etc. It features his trademark talking while a room full of studio musicians and singers else do the heavy lifting.

So anyway. This "Smokey and the Bandit" was made during a simpler time, when even bullshit car crash movies like this one incorporated some subtext, even if it shows up like a beer bottle broken over your head during a bar fight in a roadside soul food diner, which by the way also happens in this movie. They're subtle about the fact that she's Jewish, the Bandit is not, and Smokey is very likely insensitive to minorities in the off-camera world. So the point of this movie is:

If we all had the cool-headed confidence and philosophical clarity of the Bandit then even amid the rat race of life we'd be able to see how well we can get along with others no matter how little we have in common with them, as long as they are as good looking as a 30 year-old, 100-pound Sally Field in tight pants and not a 60 year-old, 250 pound Jackie Gleason.

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