Sometimes it’s nice just to kick back and watch a movie for the sheer hell of it. Last week I got all deeply analytical and philosophical on the subject of Once Upon A Time In The West, a film made with meticulous care and a measured, operatic pace.
This week, I popped open a cold one and fired up Smokey and the Bandit. This is one of those movies that was on TV all the time when I was a little kid. All. The. Time. And I remember just eating it up, because it had fast cars, cartoony characters, and just plain seemed like everyone involved in the production was having a hell of a good time.
Revisiting it as an adult? Well, it ain’t no masterpiece of cinema, but it’s still a lot of fun. For one thing, I had forgotten that the big bootlegging crux of the film is transporting 400 cases of Coors beer from East Texas to Georgia. In 1977 America, it was illegal to bring Coors east of the Mississippi river without a special permit, a concept that baffles my mind because, well… Coors. 2012 is a year where so many better domestic and imported brews are so widely available, for such cheap prices, it boggles my mind that anyone could ever risk incarceration over Coors. Coors for me is the stuff people fall back on when they just need mass quantities of beer and don’t care what it is.
And yet, yeah, I suppose prior to the 1990s the beer market in the U.S. wasn’t nearly as diverse, and apparently, quite jealously guarded in some cases. I still love the concept that the main impetus of the movie is based around driving a truckload of cheap beer from Texarkana to Atlanta as fast as possible, dodging every kind of law along the way. This isn’t cocaine or bioweapons, it’s Coors, and there’s a certain innocence to that.
The whole movie shares that sort of childlike innocence, like a Coyote/Roadrunner cartoon brought to live action and moved to the highways of the Deep South, or at least a fantasy version of it where everyone has a CB Radio and is more than willing to mess around with the law so that a charismatic, carefree rebel can win the day. Cars crash and property gets destroyed, but there’s no lasting consequences beyond some frustrated “countie mountie” stomping on his Smokey hat. Burt Reynolds as The Bandit could easily be seen as a lower-rent template for Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark. Jackie Gleason’s portrayal of Sherriff Buford T. Justice is such a stereotype he all but transcends the concept, and has resonated down through the decades into such strange descendants as Eric Cartman of South Park shouting about his “Authori-TY!”. Even Sally Field’s love interest character in the movie seems somehow more vibrant than many modern equivalents.
Again, not claiming great cinema here, but Smokey and the Bandit really never tries to be profound. You don’t get that weird whiplash effect of movies like Transformers which occasionally seem to feel the need to say something about the human condition, instead of just sticking to giant robots duking it out. Smokey and the Bandit is what it is, straightforward escapist entertainment, presented with no regrets, no apologies, and a big charming grin on its mustachioed mug. It’s also a movie from back when “PC” barely even meant Personal Computer, much less Political Correctness, so I suppose I perhaps ought to warn off the easily offended—but the only openly racist character also happens to be the villain, and again, he’s racist in the way Cartman is racist, so overblown you can’t really take him seriously.
For me, it held up as 90 minutes of well-paced fun, and when a movie can do that whether you’re nine years old or thirty years past that mark, there’s something special to it. Call it a guilty pleasure if you must… I’ll just call it a pleasure, plain and simple.