Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Bandit: Bandit Goes Country review

Into The Bandit-Verse

What's it about?

Tonight's nos…talgic (?) pic is… Huh. I need to check this again. Uh-huh. You know what? The universe might actually be broken. Tonight, we're looking at the FOURTH "Bandit" movie, 1994's "Bandit: Bandit Goes Country (Universal Television, 1994).

"My name is Dit. Ban-dit".

Legendary outlaw "The Bandit" (Brian Bloom), who is apparently just named "The Bandit" and has no other name like "Bo Darville" at all that is ever mentioned in the hour-and-a-half runtime, has a rendezvous in a line-dancing bar (which was the style in 1994)
Pictured: The style in 1994.

with his partner Lynn (Brian Krause from "Charmed") to arrange a business proposal: The Bandit has to run an errand in his hometown, Noname City, Southern State, USA.
Not Cledus Snow... Snow White... Whitelighter... Wait a minute...

Lynn (AKA NOT Cledus Snow, AKA NOT Snowman) has to drive Bandit's semi truck while drives his shiny new black 1994 Pontiac Tran-- I mean Dodge Stealth to… Actually, I'm not sure why they have to drive two vehicles.
Also, this unbadged Dodge Stealth seems like an odd choice for a sports car.

The Bandit isn't running interference with the law against the clock like he was in 1977's "Smokey and the Bandit," and I really don't see a narrative reason why they have to split up. Anyway, it’s a good thing that they do, because right after The Bandit picks up a hitchhiker named "Easy" (Heather Lynch) he has to perform a daring rescue of a nearly out of control airplane by landing it safely (?) on the back of his flatbed truck.
"Easy," who does... something for the plot... probably. I give up.

Impressive for a TV stunt? Sure!

Necessary or believable? Surely not!

It's a good thing he does too, because that plane is carrying Mel Tillis (played by Mel Tillis) and his manager Teach (Charles Nelson Reilly), who are against the clock to get Mel to a concert.
Laurel and Hardy, they ain't.

Bandit offers to get Mel to his plane in exchange for half of what he makes at the concert, which the uptight Teach unexpectedly agrees to. Before that, though, Bandit has to go back to his hometown to help his cousin Johnny Bruce (Christopher Atkins) to retrieve an artifact known as "The Bear," which the people from the north side of the river town have been feuding with the people from the south side of the river town for almost a century.
JB has many fingers in many pies.

Look, I'm going to do you a favor and just show you "The Bear," because otherwise you'd just be disappointed by the plot build-up.

While there, Bandit tries to rekindle his relationship with a former love, Beth (Elizabeth Berkley).
Post Jessie Spano, but pre "Showgirls."

Unfortunately for Bandit, he's vying for her affection against hulking radio DJ Jake "Big Sky" Olson (Tyler Mane), who has sworn vengeance against The Bandit for stealing Beth from him five years previous.
"I'll get you, Wolverine! I mean, Bandit!"

Can bandit sort out the problems in his home town and get the girl? Also, there's a "Romeo and Juliet" subplot for no reason.
Why have character developing stakes when you can just introduce more characters to do it for you?

Some background

This movie is too interesting to not talk about. It's not good, mind you, but interesting. As previously discussed, Hal Needham was a famous Hollywood stuntman who took to creating and directing movies in the late 70s to great and unexpected success. Why am I bringing up Hal Needham? Because he directed this strange television cash-in, and that gives it some odd legitimacy. His fingerprints are all over it: There are quite a few practical stunts, a cast featuring a few celebrity guest stars (Mel Tillis and Charles Nelson Reilly are Needham veterans), and shockingly low stakes for all the chaos on screen.

You do get to watch Tyler Mane throw people through walls for a bit.

I think that the biggest oddity is that so few people realize that it (and its sequels) exists at all. This was part of MCA/Universal's "Action Pack," a syndicated package of unrelated shows that aired on various stations and networks (along with "Hercules: The Legendary Adventures" and "Xena: Warrior Princess"), so it wasn't aired on any one national network, but usually on cable affiliates. Because it was presented as a TV movie and not a series of shows it seems to have been missed by the general populace at the time.

So many problems, so little payoff

So what are its flaws? Well, first off, Burt Reynolds is nowhere to be found. Granted, he was well past middle-aged at this point and would not have been in any condition to play a young, vibrant Bo "The Bandit" Darville. Even though there's a spark of that dashing rogue energy in Brian Bloom's performance, he lacks Reynolds's natural carefree charm. It's not entirely his fault, though: The movie's plot is unnecessarily complex and overloaded with subplots, but none of them are interesting enough on their own to be entertaining. It's so bogged down in entirely superfluous plots that it crawls at times and can be quite trying to watch. There's no Jackie Gleason "Smokey" presence in the movie giving anything a sense of urgency;

This dynamic is teased in this early scene, but never followed up.

there are FBI agents pursuing Bandit's cousin JB, but they are laughably dispatched the few times they show up and never present a credible threat.
You're looking at possibly less than five minutes of screen time in a 1.5 hour production.

The FBI car stunts aren't as goofy either.

The most urgent plot point in the film is Bandit trying to get Mel Tillis to the concert to take half the sales, but it's never even presented as pressing because the only character who seems to care is Charles Nelson Reilly's "Teach." The timeframe is also a bit muddied: Is this a prequel? A sequel? A reboot? A reimagining? We're never told. As a matter of fact, if you just called this character something other than "Bandit" you would be hard pressed to realize that it was supposed to be related to those late 70s / early 80s movies at all.
Also, these CGBs (Computer Generated Bees) are BAD.

Is it safe for kids?

This is rated TV-PG in the USA. There's no swearing, but there is gunplay - though never explicitly aimed at a human being - and some fighting, but there's no death and no bloodletting. Because this was 1994 television, there's no tobacco use, nothing even remotely controversial, not even any minorities represented (not racially, not culturally, and not sexually) which was the style at the time.

Reminder: The style in 1994.

If your kids have patience and can stand 1994 country-western "culture," it should be safe enough, and as a matter of fact is probably the only show that's still legal to watch in Florida.

Where can you watch it?

I couldn't find it streaming anywhere, and I watched it on my DVD "Smokey and the Bandit: The Outlaw Collection" set. Again, I don't know what's up with the transfer on this: While originally presented in a TV 4:3 aspect ratio, this version is stretched to 16:9, and there were no adjustments on the DVD player or Television that could resolve this. If I were running it on my computer I could use VLC Media Player to force it to scale properly, but that's just too much effort to devote to this film which I will never watch again.

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