Reynolds was already well-known on the big screen when White Lightning came out in 1973, but this was the first film to associate the actor with exciting, and in this case, slightly comedic car action. Reynolds played ex-con Gator McKlusky who decided to work with the Feds to bring down a moonshining ring – and also to avenge the death of his brother at the hands of a crooked cop. The cars weren’t impressive and it’s strange to see Reynolds without his trademark mustache, but there’s all kinds of neat driving action. A sequel was made in 1976 but it lacked the automotive tomfoolery of the original.
Smokey And The Bandit
What can be said about this movie that isn’t already known? It was an unexpected runaway hit in 1977 and the first film directed by Hal Needham, a well-known Hollywood stuntman who worked with Reynolds in the past and was even the actor’s stunt double in White Lightning. It was a feel-good film that captured the trucking lifestyle and CB community of the 1970s, while also serving as an anthem to car lovers and rebellious speed fans across the United States. The stars aligned to create something truly more than the sum of its parts.
Just one year after Smokey And The Bandit, Needham and Reynolds teamed up again for Hooper – a film not unlike Needham’s own story. Reynolds played an aging stuntman trying to show Hollywood he still had the right stuff, while coaching a young up-and-comer on how the business worked. The film features one of the most epic stunt-driven action car sequences of all time, culminating with a rocket-powered Pontiac Trans Am (red this time) jumping over a destroyed bridge.
Smokey And The Bandit 2
The original cast from the first film reunited for a second highway adventure, though things were a bit more over-the-top and campy this time around. Bandit and Snowman (played by Jerry Reed) are challenged with transporting an elephant in a very limited time window, and Sheriff Buford T. Justice is still out to stop him. In fact, the Sheriff calls in law enforcement family to assist, while Snowman brings in a team of trucks for a massive cop-versus-trucker showdown. The magic of the first film was missing, but it’s still an entertaining adventure with Reynolds in his black Trans Am. There was a third Smokey sequel, but Reed took over the lead role and Reynolds only made a brief cameo towards the end of the film.
The Cannonball Run
Legendary Car and Driver scribes Brock Yates and Steve Smith conceived the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash back in 1971 as a celebration of speed, and a big middle finger to tightening emissions regulations and traffic laws. Several of these unofficial events took place through the 1970s, and this 1981 film was a semi-accurate retelling of one of them. In fact, the ambulance Reynolds drove in the film is the same ambulance Yates drove for one of the races, and the plot has many similarities. By this time, Reynolds was well and truly a major star tied with comedic car roles, which is why the film also featured the likes of Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Roger Moore, Farah Fawcett, and a host of other hot stars and Hollywood royalty.
In 1983, Reynolds adopted the persona of cheeky NASCAR driver Stroker Ace, a “man’s man” who never settled for second place. Hal Needam was once again along as director, and the action/comedy was entertaining if a bit silly. By that we mean a lot silly – as in Reynolds wearing a chicken suit while driving a race car silly. It wasn’t well received by audiences and critics back in the day, but it’s held up reasonably well over time and makes for a fun watch.
The Cannonball Run 2
As with the first Smokey and the Bandit sequel, the follow-up to the first Cannonball film wasn’t quite as good as the original. The real Cannonball races were long over by this time, and the completely fictional story took things to the extreme with Reynolds and Dom DeLuise pretending to be military officials driving across the country for an important mission. Still, the car action is exciting with plenty of automotive eye candy, and though audiences were beginning to tire of Reynolds’ campy car antics, he still had all kinds of star power. Numerous Hollywood legends made guest appearances, including old blue eyes himself, Frank Sinatra. It would be the last big automotive production with Reynolds starring and Hal Needham directing.
Reynolds made numerous films through the 1980s and 1990s, not the least of which was Boogie Nights for which he received accolades from fans and critics alike. But his return to the automotive genre came in 2001’s Driven – a fast-paced action film starring Sylvester Stallone as a CART driver guiding an up-and-comer, with Reynolds playing car owner Carl Henry. The film is actually quite exciting as long as you can suspend your disbelief with the many inaccuracies and exaggerations that befall the plot.
The Dukes Of Hazzard
Many people have said the original Smokey And The Bandit film was the inspiration for the much-loved television series The Dukes Of Hazzard, which first aired during the height of Bandit mania in 1979. The 2005 theatrical reboot brought Reynolds on-board as the love-to-hate nemesis of the Duke boys, Boss Hogg. He was awesome in that role, and while the campy nature of the movie was off-putting to many, it endures as a thoroughly enjoyable car film. Reynolds would go on to make several more films after this, but The Dukes Of Hazzard is the last thoroughly fun auto-themed movie he would be in.
11 / 11