I love Smokey and the Bandit. I love Smokey an the Bandit II even more. Not ironically, not in a kitschy way, and I’d like to think it’s not even all based on nostalgia. I think Burt Reynolds in the 70s and early 80s had a kind of charisma as the Bandit that was unequalled. I think Sally Field was the perfect, adorable chick to play the love interest, Frog. I think Jackie Gleason’s performance as Buford T Justice is a master class in broad, character comedy. I think Jerry Reed nailed it as the Bandit’s sidekick Snowman. It is for all of those reasons that I have always avoided the Reynolds and Field-free Smokey and the Bandit Part 3. Until now.
This movie is so bad and so ignored, I can’t even find a trailer on Youtube. All I can find is the trailer for the original cut of the movie that never even got released, where Mason was going to play both roles of Smokey and the Bandit. Now, while that sounds absolutely terrible, at least it sounds crazy enough to be a little interesting, unlike the version that was released.
A common sign that a sequel might struggle to reach the highs of its predecessor is the promotion of supporting players to more prominent roles. Think Frenchy in Grease 2, or Joe Pesci in Lethal Weapon 3. Well, in Smokey and the Bandit Part 3, not only do we get the Snowman promoted to the role of the Bandit, we also get the comic relief characters of Big and Little Enis bumped up to major supporting characters. In the first two movies, they make bets that send the Bandit off on his adventure and Buford T Justice off in hot pursuit. In Part 3,they make the bet to kick things off, then pop up constantly, trying to hinder both sides’ attempts to win. They’re funny in little doses, just outright annoying when peppered throughout.
So the story is, Buford T Justice is retiring. We learn this in a spoof of the famous George C Scott opening scene from Patton where he addresses the camera (his troops) in front of American flag. This is after an opening titles spoof on Star Wars and a long montage of clips from the first two movies that shows Reynolds’ signature laugh no less than three times. Two spoofs of iconic cinematic landmarks, shoehorning in as much footage of the absent star as possible… I have a feeling the film makers weren’t too confident about this one.
But back to Buford’s retirement, he heads to Florida with his “tick turd” son and never seen wife, soon realising retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. His boredom makes him accept a bet from the Enises to make a cross country road trip in a designated amount of time. You know, like the Bandit had to do in the first one. And the second one.
Once they think Buford might actually succeed, the Enises decide to enlist the help of the Bandit. But not the original, for convoluted reasons that don’t make any sense, Jerry Reed’s Snowman decides to take on the persona and take the job of the all new Bandit, Trans-Am and all. But not the awesome Trans-Am of the Reynolds era. It’s a cheap, plastic looking 80s Trans-Am that has none of the balls or character of the 70s original. It’s sort of like the car equivalent of downgrading from Burt Reynolds to Jerry Reed.
What happens in the story doesn’t matter. There are hints of the Snowman / Bandit learning a lesson about ego and realising you should accept who you are instead of trying to be someone else. But it never really goes anywhere. There’s a clunky moment of genuine affection shoehorned in between Justice and his always abused son Junior, but it never feels earned. Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 really is the lazy, exploitative, half assed, last gasp of breath sequel that makes you scared all sequels are going to be a lazy, exploitative, half assed, last gasps.