Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The essential Burt Reynolds car movie guide

I recently picked up the Burt Reynolds' DVD’s of Hooper and Cannonball Run II. I hadn’t watched either of them for awhile, but these mindless, big budget car movies were always among my favorites.

If you are into cars, car culture, and entertainment purely for entertainment’s sake, these films from the 1970s/early 80s are essential for your DVD collection.

Here’s a little synopsis of some of the best (and worst) Burt Reynolds movies featuring the big three: car chases, car jumps, and car crashes.

 ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ = GOLDEN MOUSTACHE RATING SYSTEM!

White Lightning, 1973. ( ^ ^ ^ )
As one of Burt Reynolds’ early car chase flicks, this one isn’t quite a goofy and lighthearted as some of the later films--especially those directed by Hal Needham. A de-mustached Reynolds plays Gator McKlusky, who after learning about a corrupt sheriff (played by Ned Beatty) who is picking on his younger brother while in prison, agrees to go undercover as a moonshine runner to shut the sheriff down. Souped-up late model Ford sedans do most of the stunt work in this Deliverance-like effort.

W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings, 1975. ( ^ ^ ^ )
This is more of a movie about a con man country music singer than a pure car movie, but a gaudy ’55 Olds plays a prominent part in the story. Basically, Reynolds is a singer in a 50s Nashville country group, and he robs, cheats, and steals his way from gig to gig. We also get to see Jerry Reed paired-up with Reynolds before he became the Snowman, and Art Carney makes a truly nasty, self-righteous lawman. Interestingly, the movie was directed by John Avildsen, but Hal Needham, who directed many of Burt Reynolds biggest hits, had a cameo as Elvis.

Gator, 1976. ( ^ ^ ^ ) This is a sequel to White Lightning, but it’s a little less serious and bigger on the stunts. Reynolds actually directed this story that finds Gator risking prison time for moonshining if he doesn’t help put away his lifelong friend Bama McCall, played by Jerry Reed.  Reynolds not only starred in this action-packed adventure, but he directed it.  Lauren Hutton played the girl.  She also turned up with Reynolds in 1987 for the forgettable Dirty Harry ripoff Malone.

Smokey and the Bandit, 1977. ( ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ )
This is probably the most well-known of the Burt Reynolds car movies, and arguably the best. Everyone knows the story. If a down-and-out trucker can divert the police away from an illegal truckload of Coors beer long enough that the load can make it to a pit party at a dirt track race, he’ll win a bet for $80,000. The Great One himself, Jackie Gleason, does an excellent job of playing the tough but bumbling Sheriff Buford T. Justice, Sally Field rides shotgun in the black Trans Am, and Jerry Reed drives the semi. Pure genius.

Hooper, 1978. ( ^ ^ ^ ^ )
Reynolds plays Hooper, an aging stuntman who realizes young hot shots like Ski Chinski (played by Jan Michael Vincent) are the way of the future. Sally Field again plays the love interest, but a neat twist is that her dad Jocko Doyle (Brian Keith), was himself the top dog stuntman until Hooper came along. As this is a show about stuntmen, there are understandably a great deal of car chases, culminating in the “big” record-breaking rocket car jump at the end of the film. The big difference here is that the Trans Am is red instead of black, and Reynolds rides in the passenger seat. It is also nice to see James Best, playing Hooper’s friend Cully, acting a little less Roscoe P. Coltrane silly.

Smokey and the Bandit II, 1980.  ( ^ ^ ^ )
OK, I'll admit that Smokey and the Bandit II wasn’t great, but it is still an essential part of any Burt Reynolds car movie library. This time they’re moving an elephant, not beer, and Dom DeLuise is the on-board veterinarian. It really doesn’t matter why. What does matter is that they destroy a jillion police cars in a semi-truck vs. police car showdown, and Jackie Gleason is as funny as ever.

The Cannonball Run, 1981. ( ^ ^ ^ ^ )
This movie was loosely based off of a real illegal car race across the country, and the Dodge ambulance that Reynolds and DeLuise drive in the film is the actual vehicle that race creator Brock Yates drove in real life. The star power in this movie is amazing. Everyone from Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., to Farrah Fawcett and Roger Moore shared the lights. The Cannonball Run is funny, entertaining, and fun, and if you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself to check it out. As time goes on, it may actually be better now than it used to be.

Stroker Ace, 1983. ( ^ ^ ^ ^ )
This is another fun movie that you don’t hear about. Reynolds plays Stroker Ace, a hot shot NASCAR Cup driver who saddles himself with a contract to drive for smarmy chicken restaurant owner Clyde Torkel, played by Ned Beatty. Jim Neighbors plays Stroker’s sidekick and mechanic Lugs, and Loni Anderson plays the mousy but beautiful Pembrook Feeney. The vintage racing sequences and cameos by drivers like Dale Earnhardt and Harry Gant make this movie a better pick than, say, Talladega Nights, or even Days of Thunder.

Smokey and the Bandit, Part 3, 1983. ( ^ )
This movie is terrible. It isn’t even really a Burt Reynolds movie, per se, but he does make a cameo appearance as the “Real Bandit.” Basically, Jerry Reed dons the Bandit costume to race around with a plastic fish on the roof of his ’83 Trans Am while an annoying Coleen Camp rides shotgun. At least it still has Jackie Gleason, and they tear up some cars. The best part about this one is that they utilize a Joie Chitwood thrill show during one of the chase scenes.

Cannonball Run II, 1984. ( ^ ^ )
This isn’t really all that great either, but it was obvious that everyone was having fun while they made it. What is really amazing about this movie is the huge number of big stars that appear. It might hold some kind of record for A-list celebrity appearances—Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Shirley MacLaine, Don DeLuise, Marilu Henner, Telly Savalas, Jackie Chan, Susan Anton, Catherine Bach, Tony Danza, Tim Conway, Jim Neighbors, Don Knotts, Jamie Farr, Sid Caesar, Ricardo Montalban, and the list goes on and on. Lots of car chases, a big fight scene, and tons of bad jokes make Cannonball Run II a disturbingly fun guilty pleasure.

FYI--Most of these movies, and many other car-themed movies and TV shows, can be purchased at the Hover Motor Company DVD Store!

This story originally posted on Examiner.com.

4 comments:

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  2. I do have a whole lot of this Burt Reynolds DVD's in my private collection. These are among my all-time favorites featuring the big three: car chases, car jumps, and car crashes. I specially love watching the 1981 flick “The Cannonball Run". You know, sometimes when I see hi-tech innovations in automobile industry, like the one which I just saw about the new Mercedes-Benz driving simulator at http://clients.ccm-news.com/?client=Mercedes-Benz , I wonder what tremendous advancement we have made in automobile! We are really fortunate to be living.

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