People often say that “good things come in threes,” but those folks obviously never watched the Smokey and the Bandit trilogy. The series started off on the right foot in 1977, defining “cool” for an entire generation of moviegoers. However, the sequel in 1980 fell short, lacking laughs, charm, and impressive stunts. The disappointing reception of the second movie led to director Hal Needham declining to take part in Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 (1983), with star Burt Reynolds only agreeing to a brief cameo.
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A Shift in Focus
With Reynolds stepping back, the spotlight shifted to Jackie Gleason’s bumbling Sheriff Buford T. Justice. Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 attempted to make Justice the protagonist, but it lacked the anti-authoritarian energy of the first two films. Conflicting creative visions during production led to expensive reshoots that forced the filmmakers to piece together the movie in the editing room. The result was a lazy and unfocused final entry that coasted on cruise control.
A Misfit Character
The plot of Part 3 didn’t help matters. Despite Justice serving as the protagonist, the writers recycled the same story from the previous films, tasking the retired police officer with transporting valuable cargo for a hefty sum. This premise might have worked for the outlaw character Bandit, but it felt like a square peg being forced into a round hole with Justice. His motivation in the earlier movies was primarily ego-driven, not materialistic.
Production Woes and Cheap Imitations
The movie’s production woes were evident with the introduction of Bandit’s sidekick, Cledus Snow. Originally, the plan was for Gleason to tackle a dual role as both Sheriff Justice and the Bandit. However, test audiences disliked this version, leading to last-minute re-shoots with Jerry Reed’s involvement. Reed’s portrayal of Bandit came across as a cheap imitation of Reynolds, lacking the amusing absurdity seen in other imitations. These production issues contributed to the disjointed and muddled nature of the film.
Although Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 fell short, it did improve on its predecessor in pacing the action. While the stunt work relied on slow motion to heighten the excitement, the film still delivered on automotive destruction. Additionally, the soundtrack featured original tracks from country music heavyweights, adding to the film’s overall experience.
Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 failed to recapture the success of its predecessors. With a disappointing box office performance and a budget that didn’t break even, the franchise fizzled out. However, the Bandit character made a comeback on the small screen years later, but that’s a story for another time. As for the lost “Smokey is the Bandit” footage, fans can only hope it sees the light of day, as the promotional image of Gleason dressed up as Reynolds remains funnier than many of the jokes in Part 3.
*Note: This article is based on the original piece by Corner Store Cinema.