10 September 2018 | Coventry
Rest in peace, Bayou's baddest good ol' boy!
I am not a man of many traditions, but I like to keep the few ones that I do have intact. One of those traditions is that I pay tribute to a deceased actor or director by watching one of his/her movies as soon as I hear the sad news. Burt Reynolds died on 5th of September 2018 and, although he's far from my favorite actor of all times, I do feel an honoring is in place since titles like "Deliverance", "White Lightening", "The Cannonball Run" and "Smokey and The Bandit" are nevertheless favorites of mine. Reviewing "Gator" is even a bit of a double tribute, since the film also marked Reynold's debut as a director.
"Gator" is exactly what you expect a pulpy and trashy sequel to the 1973 semi-classic "White Lightening" to be like, except that everything now revolves even more around the hunky & cool persona of illegal liquor runner Gator McClusky. Freshly released from prison, Gator is forced by a New York DA to help apprehend his former childhood buddy Bama McCall, who's now a big-shot Bayou crook. Gator is initially reluctant to betray his old friend and sabotages the operation, but when he finds out that Bama has become a relentless gangster who runs mafia-like protection rings and forces underaged girls into prostitution, all his sympathy quickly vanished. Like "White Lightening", the tone of "Gator" is also primarily light-headed, but with many raw and dark edges as well as unexpected moments of extreme violence. The typically hillbilly-soundtrack and the speedboat-chases through the Bayou swamps are comical, but Bama McCall's sinister henchmen and their gangster practices are grim and more reminiscent to the dark and uncompromising type of 70s grindhouse/exploitation cinema. The role of Jerry Reed is particularly and utmost surprising! I previously just knew him as a country-crooner (he also sings the title song) or as the jolly but harmless sidekick (for example in "Smokey and the Bandit") but here Reed depicts a truly evil guy with a nasty shotgun and intimidating helpers. His lieutenants are a scary giant named Bones, so tall that he has stick his head out of the open roof when driving a car, and a perverse creep named Smiley (you'll see why).
Reynolds occasionally demonstrates that he holds the potential of a competent director, and "Gator" is overall good entertainment, but the film is too long and especially the romantic interludes between Gator and love-interest Lauren Hutton are too tedious and interfere with the explosive action & spectacle during the finale. Throughout the 70s and 80s, it seemed like Burt Reynolds had a fun career with a few classics and a quite large number of genuine crowd-pleasers. He made a remarkable comeback in the 90s, with a few hits ("Boogie Nights") and more misses ("Striptease", "Cop and a Half") but always kept his Bayou bad-boy coolness. Rest in peace, Mr. Bandit.