Gator Blu-ray Review: A Charming Burt Reynolds Elevates This Ridiculous Sequel

With the success of White Lightning, the studio was clamoring for a sequel. Burt Reynolds had never been in a sequel, and wasn’t too keen on starring in one, but he’d always wanted to try his hand at directing a movie. Knowing the sequel wouldn’t work without Reynolds, the studio agreed and Gator was born. He’d stand behind the camera six more times in his long career, but never to much success.

Like a lot of sequels, Gator is so much more than the original – more car chases, more violence, and more sex (both films were rated PG so neither don’t go too far in those directions). It also loses a bit of what made the original so charming. The feds once again task Gator to bring down a corrupt politician, “Bama” McCall (Jerry Reed, who also wrote and sang the incredible theme song). It turns out Gator and Bama grew up together which should give Gator an inside track into stopping Bama.

Gator doesn’t have any interest in that plan but the cops arrest his father for moonshining and threaten to send his young daughter to the foster care system. In a strange bit of terrible continuity, Gator’s parents were clearly Arkansas farmers in the first film but here it’s just his dad (played by a different actor in this film, John Steadman who played a different character in White Lightning) who lives in a cabin in the Georgia swamp and claims to have been a moonshiner all his life. Though they ostensibly are the reason for most of the plot of Gator, the two characters will not be seen again.

Gator agrees to the plan (after treating us to a pretty rad boat chase through the swamp) and finds a way to reconnect with Bama. He’s still not real keen on getting Bama arrested, but once he realizes his old friend isn’t just moonshining but runs a brothel with underage girls that he keeps addicted to drugs, Gator is all in.

White Lightning was full of car chases, but in Gator our hero doesn’t so much flee from his enemies in his hot rod, but attack them with it. He slams his vehicle into other cars, chases his enemies around, and generally menaces everybody who is after him with it. Bama is a mean son of a bitch, using a sawed-off, double-barrel shotgun to do away with anybody that gets in his way. He’s got a couple of dumb henchmen, Smiley (Burton Gillian), who doesn’t do much but smile all the time, and Bones (William Engesser), who is so huge when he drives a car his head sticks out the sunroof by a good six inches.

Journalist Aggie Maybank (Lauren Hutton) has been investigating Bama and at first figures Gator must be working for him. Naturally, she becomes the love interest and the two have a natural chemistry. Alice Ghostley plays Emmeline Cavanaugh, a kooky old woman who used to work in the courthouse and knows where Bama keeps his crooked books. This leads to the film’s best scene with her, Aggi, and Gator breaking into the courthouse with a pair of cats (Ms. Cavanaugh refuses to go in without them.)

It is all a bit silly, but it’s fun to watch. Reynolds is a capable director, but not a particularly good one. The film is a little too bloated, too full of incident which loses that hanging-out charm of the first one. But it does have more explosions and a good little fistfight on a beach, so that’s something. What won me over is Reynolds the actor and his easy-going charm. All of the actors, especially Jerry Reed, seem to be having a wonderful time, which carries the picture along when the plot gets bogged down.

Extras on this Kino Lorber Blu-ray include an audio commentary by film historians Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson, an archival interview with Burt Reynolds about the movie, radio spots, and some trailers.

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Mat Brewster

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