What is it about participating in Bad Movie Nights that is so enjoyable? Is it the lame acting? Horrible plots? The false sense of superiority over the filmmakers who made the crap?
Whatever it is, I missed that wonderful feeling, which is why I hosted the first Bad Movie Night in several months. And Burt Reynolds — veteran actor, best friend of Dom DeLuise, pioneer of awesome moustache-itude — was in the cross-hairs.
First up was the seminal sequel to Smokey and the Bandit, Smokey and the Bandit II. It’s hard to believe that the first movie made $126 million in the box office in 1977, proving that America’s love of country-fried hijinks and broad stereotypes was as embarrassing then as it is now. No wonder that a sequel was a top priority.
The movie starts with Big Enos Burdett, in a bid to be governor of Texas, needing a secret parcel to be transported to Texas from Miami in time for the Republican Convention (how political!). The only man for the job is the Bandit (Burt Reynolds), who’s now become an alcoholic after losing Frog (Sally Field) to slow-witted Junior Justice — son of Buford T. Justice. Bandit’s best friend Cledus (I’m not making any of these names up.), after numerous attempts to sober Bandit up, begs Frog to convince Bandit to do “one last” ride and get the package to Texas for a big payday. Little do they know that the package is an elephant, and that Frog and Bandit feel those romantic feelings in their loins on their cross-country journey. Oh, those crazy kids.
On paper this sounds bad, but oh is it so much worse on the screen. Most of the comedy simply falls flat, often delving into embarrassing territory. Bandit breaking the fourth wall, looking at the camera and mentioning that Frog still likes him, was corny. From Bandit outrunning two racehorses on foot, to Buford’s stress alert bracelet (complete with warning alarm and Monk chant) and lazy stereotypes of numerous races and stereotypes (Bandit slaps five with a young African-American kid), this was definitely a product of flaming ignorance. [Whoever thought that Buford, after having his car turned over by “Mean Joe” Greene, exclaiming that he knew that this would happen after they started busing — referring to when school systems started bring African-American students to once-segregated schools on buses, needs to be kicked in the crotch for eternity in Hell with steel-toed shoes.]
Speaking of bad celebrity appearances, there were plenty in this movie for no good reason whatsoever. At one point, Bandit leads Buford on a chase, ending up at the Pittsburgh Steelers training facility in Miami — where the embarrassing racist incident mentioned above happened. (This probably wasn’t a coincidence, considering the Steelers won the Super Bowl in ’79 and ’80 — thanks pop culture trivia night!) Terry Bradshaw (also in the Burt Reynolds masterpiece Hooper) and “Mean Joe” (who reads lines from cue cards well) were notably onscreen, as was country star Don Williams in a very tacked-on country bar scene.
I can’t forget the appearances by Dom DeLuise as a woefully-stereotypical Italian gynecologist who treats the ptegnant elephant (and would later re-team with Reynolds in the Cannonball Run movies) and Jackie Gleason in his last role as Buford T. Justice/Reginald Justice and Gaylord Justice (Gaylord because he’s gay! How HILARIOUS) playing a bastard father, racist, blithering idiot, Canadian and homosexual — ever the thespian.
Worse is watching the action unfold. Watching Bandit outrun Buford and Junior over and over again ranges from boring to baffling on a logic scale. Several instances involve Bandit being chased by Buford by mere inches, with Bandit taunting him on the CB Radio (remember those?), the same device that could have called any number of police, sheriffs or highway patrolmen throughout the country to stop Bandit. And the climax of the movie involves that wish finally happening — taking place in a Cowboys and Indians-style battle with police cars — is an exercise in knuckle-dragging excess, with big-rigs, strangely well-placed ramps and car crashes galore. Strangely, most of the other characters from the beginning of the movie disappear altogether, which is what seems to happen with the main plot and the point of watching the movie altogether — faults and everything else not withstanding.
The next movie, Hooper had all of those primal thrills and more. Burt Reynolds stars as veteran diva stuntman Sonney Hooper, aging in a business that chews up and spits out lesser stuntmen without a backbone to spare. He is in a relationship with Gwen Doyle (Sally Field, who was freakin’ it with Burt back then), daughter of his mentor, Jocko Doyle (Brian Keith), while trying to overcome his insecurities of hot-shot stuntman Ski Chinski (Jan-Michael Vincent of Airwolf and Tarzan in Manhattan).
So many things were taking place in the movie that we all had no idea what the main plot was supposed to be. Just when it was established that Hooper was threatened by Ski being his successor, we were then supposed to be concerned that Hooper would never marry Gwen. Then, Hooper was growing more concerned about his health and vitality in the stuntman game. Then, Gwen’s father Jocko had a stroke. Then the director became a total dick and kicked out the writer, dreaming up a climax for the movie — a James Bond spoof — with a hillbilly-like car chase through what looked like war-torn Bosnia and over a 325-foot destroyed bridge (which was actually being used by real-life drivers in the movie) in a rocket-powered car. No, I am not making any of this up.
The very end of the movie was so bland that it hurt. When about to make the monumental jump, hot-shot Ski has second thoughts just before attempting it. Where this could have been the scene to lend the movie some dramatic weight, Hooper reasons that Ski’s life is for the money bargained for the stunt. And then they make the jump. Shenanigans happen. The end. Boo.
Somehow, viewers were supposed to believe that stuntmen were hot commodities in Hollywood, inhabiting a level of celebrity that rivaled only Farrah Fawcett and cocaine and ego-fueled movie producers. Perhaps it was to make an interesting world the movie inhabited, but it was as believable as Terry Bradshaw playing a SWAT Commander (and bully).
Spliced between the plot jumps were the awesomest examples of drunk driving and reckless behavior I have ever seen. It was apparent that the stuntmen and the company that they kept loved nothing more than to polish off several 12-packs of Coors while driving their trucks all fast-like, throwing cans to their friends in other cars, driving backwards and leaping from moving automobiles. Even better were these nogoodniks taunting policemen trying to horn in on their fun by telling them to stop. It was like seatbelts or social responsibility were nonexistent, much like the laws of tasteful hair. My friend Jeremy, after watching a few minutes of this, exclaimed, “Man, the ’70s were awesome!” I couldn’t agree more.
Both Smokey and the Bandit II and Hooper shared more in common than the leading man and woman (who were both gettin’ freaky with each other). Sally Field was surprisingly attractive in both movies, displaying a cuteness and sexuality that I didn’t know she ever had. The films also shared a dangerous lack of common sense and social morals, a celebration of blush-inducing redneck culture and stupidity, breaking the fourth wall, moronic car crashes and stunts, and tying in several other Burt Reynolds movies into these films.
Also, both movies made 180-degree turns from “comedy” to straight-up drama, punctuated with overly-sappy dramatic music of the times. Seriously, I wondered if the music producer was thinking they were creating for Terms of Endearment.
And my friends and I shared our disbelief for all of this with snarky comments and jeers, for these type of movies deserved nothing but. With Hollywood continuing to churn out crap like this — for example, What Happens in Vegas and Meet the Spartans, in the unnecessary department — it is no surprise that low-brow mainstream comedies like Smokey and the Bandit II and Hooper existed back then and will continue in some form until The Reckoning. In the meantime, I hope to continue mocking such exercises of film excrement.