Revisiting Childhood Movies Part XX:
- Director: Hal Needham
- Writer: Brock Yates
- Producer: Raymond Chow
- Stars: Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLouise, Farah Fawcett, Roger Moore
- Studio: 20th Century-Fox
- Award Nominations: Razzie – Supporting Actress (Farah Fawcett)
- Length: 95 min
- Genre: Comedy
- MPAA Rating: PG
- Release Date: 19 June 1981
- Box Office Gross: $72.17 mil (#6 – 1981)
- Ebert Rating: .5
- My Rating: **.5
- My Rank: #57 (year)
- Nighthawk Nominations: none
- Nighthawk Notables: Best Guilty Pleasure
- First Watched: on television
- Number of Times Watched as a Kid: 5-10
As a Kid: It wasn’t just this film – there was also Smokey and the Bandit. Both of them were films I watched a number of times as a kid, both of them star Burt Reynolds and were directed by Hal Needham, a former stunt driver and good friend of Reynolds who directed a considerable number of films with Reynolds as the star, many of them terrible. Perhaps the reason I watched both of them so many times lies in the rating – they were both rated PG. Neither film is really one you want a kid getting too attached to given the basic immorality of their plots; in the first, Reynolds is trying to illegally sneak a large truck’s worth of beer across the border while in this film, it’s about driving across the country as fast as you can, speed limits and safety be damned.
Yet, somehow I ended up watching them a lot. I was a kid and I liked the cars. There’s the black Trans Am in Smokey (in Cannonball Run, while deciding what to drive in the race, Reynolds considers a black Trans Am and then says “No, it’s been done.”) and here the prime car is a black Lamborghini driven by Adrienne Barbeau, whose method of hiding her driver’s license inside her cleavage was instantly memorable to me even if her acting is not (though she is far from the worst in this film). I also enjoyed having Terry Bradshaw in the film – I was a fan of the Steelers as a kid (namely because I had a Franco Harris jersey when growing up, which I wore a couple of years for Halloween) so it was nice to see Bradshaw acting goofy. And, of course, Reynolds has that great carefree attitude that made him such a star at the time.
But maybe part of it was just the journey. I have always been a driver – from the minute I got my license, I was all over the place. And I have always been in cars – from that first cross-country road trip I took in 1980, to the numerous times Veronica and I have hauled Thomas across the country, I love being out on the road. This film doesn’t do a great job of using the scenery (they probably blew all the budget on the stars), but it’s fun to see them hauling across the country.
All in all, that’s what I have to say kept drawing me back to it as a kid. It was just a goofy good time with some cars and some scenery. I didn’t understand any of the more risque things, but I did understand the draw of Adrienne Barbeau’s cleavage, so it was just part of the good time.
As an Adult: This is, by any artistic standards, a pretty bad film. I give it **.5 and I’m probably being way too generous. Smokey and the Bandit was a film that was much better crafted and Sally Field as the romantic lead was much better than Farah Fawcett in both performance and in level of cuteness (I much prefer brunettes). Roger Ebert was much more harsh to this film than I was (his review is linked above).
There really aren’t very many scenes that are particularly funny, and ironically, some of them are things that I wouldn’t have thought funny as a kid. For instance, towards the end, all of the drivers are stuck waiting for construction and they end up in a fight with some bikers. The first funny thing is that the lead biker is played by Peter Fonda. The second funny thing is that after almost all the drivers have left and gotten back on the road, one of the members of the Japanese team stays behind to beat the crap out of all the bikers. He’s played by Jackie Chan, and it’s great fun to watch him thump a lot of people, because that’s what Jackie Chan does best, not that I had any idea who he was when I was a kid.
But there are really some appalling things about this film. Look at Terry Bradshaw and the other guy with him – they load up their car with case upon case of Budweiser and then say that one bag of chips to eat is plenty. My whole family, including me, was almost killed by a drunk driver in 1978, so I can’t imagine I ever would have thought that was funny. Most of the scenes aren’t particularly funny. The ending is not only completely ridiculous (what are the odds that so many contestants would be finishing so close together and all coming in on the same road?) but also completely pointless, given that this is a staggered race and we are told at the beginning of the race that it’s the difference in time that matters, not who arrives first. That would mean that Burt Reynolds’ team would still easily win – we saw them leave after all the others so their time would be the fastest. So, it’s not well-acted, it’s pretty dumb, is completely implausible and really pretty immoral. Good times!
One good thing does come out of it, though. During the closing credits, Needham put in flubs from filming, something I enjoyed watching as a kid, although watching it now, none of the flubs are particularly amusing. But the good thing that came from that, is that it inspired Chan to do that in his own films. Now that is entertaining, because Jackie Chan flubs usually involve a stunt gone horribly wrong (though thankfully he was never really badly injured).