Smokey Bites the Dust (1981)
Director: Charles B. Griffith
Writers: Max Apple and Bryan Williams
Starring: Jimmy McNichol, Janet Julian, Bill Forsythe and Walter Barnes

The Plot: Roscoe (Jimmy McNichol) is an adventurous youth who doesn’t like to play things safe and he spends his hobby-time instigating car chases with the local authorities. During the big homecoming celebration however, Roscoe takes things to a new level when he steals his friend’s exceptionally nice ride and also kidnaps the homecoming queen Peggy Sue Turner (played by Janet Julian) who soon takes a liking to the brash young man. Peggy Sue isn’t just any girl though, she is the daughter of the local police chief! Now, on the road, the chase is on! Roscoe has the sheriff chasing after him, Peggy Sue’s football star homecoming-date, Roscoe’s good friend who is after his borrowed car and nearly anyone else on the road who can give him a good chase. Will Roscoe find a way out of this situation before one of these parties catches up with him, or will he be forced to pay the price?

The Review
With a name like Smokey Bites the Dust, one knows precisely what is being called forth in the minds of fans. Our film today is a Roger Corman produced car chase romp, and the allusions to Smokey & the Bandit were absolutely bound to happen and no doubt they were intended. There are some very certain similarities between Bandit and Smokey Bites the Dust, that is for sure. There’s the overweight sheriff, not too different than Jackie Gleason’s character in Bandit, who is hunting our lead character. There’s the use of CB radios to have fun with the aforementioned silly sheriff character, who continually takes the required lumpings throughout the course of the movie. Then there’s the outrageous mix of comedy and action set pieces, as well as the love interest who is cold at first but soon warms up to our hero. There’s no question that the two films fought for the same exact audience, but one movie is certainly the more competent of the two. I’ll let you guess which movie that is, but I’ll give you a hint: it’s the one that is still remembered favorably the world over. Smokey Bites the Dust isn’t necessarily a bad movie mind you. It is a mindless piece of action fluff that is certainly capable of pleasing its core audience, but if you expect much more than a few choice scenes from this one, then you’re bound to be left disappointed. The magic that the other films featured on this Shout! Factory triple feature action pack is sorely missing from this title, and it is easily the worst film of the bunch.

I suppose I could just be spoiled after all of the tremendous transfers that were featured on the box set. Both Georgia Peaches and The Great Texas Dynamite Chase look amazing for their age, but the general look of Smokey Bites the Dust is just awful in comparison to the two other films on the set. Why this movie was not held to the pristine standards of the other two movies is something that I can’t answer, but for sure the lesser film was definitely given the lesser treatment in this situation. To address the picture quality, I’m sure that the folks at Shout! Factory weren’t slacking up and simply released the film in the only version possible, which is unfortunate but not intolerable. Another division from the rest of the DVD pack, aside from simply the picture quality, is its attempt at comedy. Although all three films on this set are knee deep in the world of the action-comedy genre, Smokey Bites the Dust certainly seems to be the most humor-oriented. The film as a whole unfortunately captures the very worst of 80’s style comedy. Similar to the Porky’s sequels and early Troma efforts, the comedy is over the top to the point that it starts to become painful to watch.

Smokey Bites the Dust has so many issues going against it that ultimately leaves it a weak product. This is unfortunate because many of the cast members actually seem talented and I’m sure there could have been a decent action-comedy to be made with all of these ingredients. Unfortunately, you can always ruin a good meal when you add too many ingredients. While Smokey Bites the Dust does feature a relatively talented cast of actors, the characters simply don’t inspire any kind of conviction or interest to endear them to the audience. In fact, outside of the confines of a comedic action movie the character of Roscoe really isn’t much of a hero. Here we have a kid stealing car after car, damaging private property, buying ten packs of cigarettes for a seven year old (in possibly the funniest bit of the entire movie, and also the most morally questionable) and all of it for no real purpose whatsoever other than the fact that things are boring in smalltown America. When you really start to look at motivations, this movie doesn’t really hold up that well. Roscoe literally travels across the country in order to evade boredom and in the context of the movie he potentially ruins the lives of a handful of people and we ultimately have no idea why. I realize that this is a comedy, first and foremost, but even a comedy should be held to some standards of narrative.

The comedy is certainly what tanks this one though. The humor found here is in the over the top variety that is sometimes found in other Roger Corman works, such as Death Race 2000, but this is a film that lacks the satire or wit of that particular classic. Instead we are treated to “bits” throughout, that come across as “shtick”, which are dependent on gimmickry and are not necessarily realistic situations. For instance there is a “humorous” sequence involving our sheriff character (played by Walter Barnes, who is no substitute for Jackie Gleason’s archetypal portrayal of the sheriff in Smokey & The Bandit) being chased by another law official, which leads to a sequence where the two chase each other around in circles around a tree while a “ring around the posies” style children’s tune plays over the soundtrack. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the silly sequences revolving around the very young Bill Forsythe. The classic veteran actor plays the football star on the tail of Roscoe who has kidnapped his “girl”. His gimmick is that he often puts his hands together and says a prayer, as if he were a religious man, but then he signs off by thanking his “coach”. Since the character is a football jock, of course his coach would mean everything to him! Oh the cunning wit and daring satire!

The Conclusion
Look, there are obviously far worse films out there and it doesn’t help that both Georgia Peaches and The Great Texas Dynamite Chase are both so entertaining, but on its own merits Smokey Bites the Dust is certainly a weak piece of action-comedy. While I don’t recommend it on the whole, as a part of the action packed triple feature from Shout! Factory, it’s not such a bad deal. I give the film a two out of five.