Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Wheelbarrow Full of Money

I have made it to the middle of STUNTMAN!, yes, the glossy center pages with photographs, the best part of any nonfiction book. I haven't made it to SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT II (or even the original SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT) in the text, but in the photo section is an ad that Hal Needham took out in VARIETY after the opening of that sequel, quoting some devastating reviews ("His intentional carelessness concerning the art of filmmaking demonstrates a total lack of regard for his audience") and contrasting them with the fact that SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT II had "THE BIGGEST OPENING WEEK IN THE HISTORY OF THE FILM BUSINESS!" The ad is illustrated with a photo of Hal Needham sitting on a wheelbarrow full of money in front of a bank, shrugging sarcastically! That is some ad. My friend thinks it misses the point. He acutely recalls the feeling of betrayal that came over him as a boy (and worshipper of the original) watching SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT II. Instead of trying to win the race - SPOILER ALERT! - the Bandit decides to save a sick elephant or something. People want to see the Bandit win the race! That's what my friend says. And that's what the critics were getting at. My friend was particularly upset by the part Barry B. once described on this "blog" as "a scene where 30 or so semi and dump trucks were up against 30 or so law vehicles and they were driving around in circles running into each other like a rodeo." That's when everyone was craving a plot the most, thought my friend, and that's exactly the moment when Hal Needham became entranced by the mere logistics of what he was doing and left the fans behind. Hal Needham may have believed he was shaming the critics by sitting on his wheelbarrow full of money, but he was really sort of shaming the audience. That's the thinking around these parts, anyway.