An Interview with Australian Writer/Director Tim McLaughlan about 2005’s Smokey and the Bandit 4 (THOUSAND)
I was sent there to watch an afternoon screening of Hidalgo. Instead, I decided to do a little sightseeing. While canvassing the immense floor plan of Walt Disney Studios in Burbank last Tuesday, I happened upon a unique young talent in the Daisy Duck refectory. Normally, I don’t go out of my way to talk to strangers. But this dude, with his thick Aussie accent, was thumbing through a stack of hot young Miss headshots, which were situated atop a script that quickly caught my attention. I love trash, and the bold type spelling out “SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT 4 (THOUSAND)” smacked like the best gem dug out of a department store dumpster full of sawdust and rubbish. So, I had to ask…
"Is that for real?”
“Absolutely. We’re in pre-production right now.”
“You’re sh*tting me.”
“No. I’d let you thumb through the script, but I’m not allowed to do that. Sorry.”
Fine. But I still had to know. What was this about? How? Why? Well, I’m B. Alan. The Orange. Before I could offer to buy the guy a bottle of Disney’s best champagne, I’d convinced Australian born Writer/Director Tim McLaughlan to engage in his first interview about this strange quasi-remake…
O: Is this going to be the apex of your career?
Tim: (laughs) I sure hope not.
O: Can you let us in on the secret? What the f*ck could this possibly be about?
Tim: Well, the title says it all. It’s about The Bandit in the year 4000.
O: He couldn’t possibly still be alive…Could he?
Tim: No, no…The opening credit sequence jokes on that a bit. We plan on opening with a shot of Burt. Then the line, “After two-thousand years of Evolution and hard core drinking, this is the man who carries the Bandit legacy into the future!” We then cut to a chubby wreck of a man in a hunting jacket, his trucker hat loosely hanging off his head. His eyes are red and sunk into the back of his skull. He is not smiling. This new Bandit is a drunk. A bumbler. He basically bumbles about in a Scotch-induced haze. He knocks a lot of stuff over. It’s pretty funny.
O: Who’s going to play The Bandit?
Tim: Well, if we can convince Vince Vaughn to bulk-up a bit. Him, with that mustache, it works. We’re in talks now. We’re also looking at Mark Addy. He could nail it, I think…
O: The guy from the Flintstones and The Full Monty?
Tim: Yeah. It’ such a diverse cut between the two, but he can carry that Burt swagger. It’s that clear line of evolution. Addy, in that red shirt and cowboy hat? Give him the mustache…That’s going to be some funny shit. But Vaughn, I think he may be the only one capable of winking directly at the audience, like The Bandit is prone to do on occasion.
O: What’s the storyline this time around?
Tim: Oh, we’re sticking pretty close to the original film. We have full blessings from the Needham Estate. Hal loves the script; the concept of it. This Bandit is sort of a remake…A quasi-remake. But remake is such a harsh word. That’s why we’re throwing in the 4 (Thousand). It’s a definite play on words. This is number 4, but it’s The Bandit 4000. It works on it’s own. It’s its own little entity. Yet, it’s a sequel. It stays very true to the roots of the first film, but it’s a goof.
That first Smokey and the Bandit was such an odd little movie. A really weird thing if you think about it. It’s about delivering a truck-full of beer from point A to point B. That’s our point of connection. 4000 is, once again, about bootlegging and delivering beer. Only this time, in Space. That’s it. When you watch the first three films back-to-back, there’s such an odd line of continuity. None of them really hold true to the other one. Even though 2 has Burt in it, it’s a rather off sequel. It’s about a pregnant elephant, for God’s sake. Most people forget that. What we’ve taken from that film is it’s opening sequence, which sees The Bandit a drunk mess in a hotel. We’ve taken that Bandit and given him his own movie. That’s our Bandit 4000. Only, he never sobers up through the whole film. It’s a throw back to films like Arthur, when alcoholism was funny, not a social stigma. He’s got a bit of Bender, the robot from Futurama, in him. We don’t deny that.
We’ve also used some ideas from the end chase sequence in 2. It’s the best chase sequence in any of the films. We’ve got some sh*t that’s going to blow your mind. If its done right. You never know. 3? There’s very little we could take from 3. That’s just a strange, strange 90-minute stretch of film, there. Its tagline was ‘Smokey and the Bandit 3: Smokey is the Bandit’. But no, Jerry Reed was the Bandit. God love the man, but he looks like The Bandit with AIDS in that red shirt. He’s just plain scary. It doesn’t work.
O: Are you working in any homages to 3?
Tim: Well, there’s one in the script right now. But that might change. We do have the stipulation in The Bandit’s contract that he has to get from point A to point B with a rather clumsy advertisement-billboard thing attached to the roof of his Trans Am.
O: What’s the Trans Am 4000 like?
Tim: Oh, it’s still a 1977 Trans Am. We couldn’t change that. It still looks the same. It’s the Bandit’s car. But it has been retrofitted like the DeLorean in Back to the Future. It has rocket engines on it, and an oxygen intake device. It’s a space ship that looks like a Trans Am. And it’s fast. It’ll give those cars in The Fast and The Furious a run for their money, that’s for sure. In a city street race, The Bandit 4000 smokes Vin Diesel’s ass. And Paul Walker? Forget about it.
O: So, this is Smokey and the Bandit in Space?
Tim: Yes. We are taking yet another franchise into space.
O: You are aware that space kills a franchise?
Tim: That’s a fallacy of perception. This is more like Ice Pirates. Every kid loved that movie when it came out. Jason X, I love that movie. I think it works. The Leprechaun in Space? Well, did that series ever really work? It’s not like they destroyed something great by taking it out of this world. All the franchises that have gone into space have been horror franchises. They didn’t take Police Academy into space. Porky’s didn’t go into space. Three Men and a Little Lady? Look Who’s Talking? No. None of them. We’re testing new ground here.
O: Gilligan’s Island went into space. And Happy Days…
Tim: Those were TV shows. Cartoons, if I’m not mistaken. And Happy Days didn’t go into space. They had a time machine. It was the only way to write Ralph Malph and Ritchie off the live-action show. I think that worked. I loved those cartoons when I was a kid. In context, in our script, it makes sense for The Bandit to be in space. First and foremost, this is a comedy. Like Starsky and Hutch, only a little darker. Big Enos and Little Enos Burdette are robots. Throwbacks to Lost in Space and that 50’s era of robots. We’re in talks now to have Paul Williams reprise his role as Little Enos. We might do it like Andy Kaufman in Heartbeeps.
Well, the story has them once again challenging the Bandit. Him and Snowman have three days to go past our Solar System and into the Rho Coronae Borealis and pick up a freighter of Olympia beer from Star 79. We’re talking, a freighter like the one seen in Alien. This is a lot of beer. Enough cans to fill the Staples center, which is still around at that point. You know, they stopped making Olympia Beer. In 4000, Star 79 is the only know source of clean, untapped Tum Water. But, just like it was illegal to bring Coors into Florida from Texas, it’s the same thing here. It’s illegal to bring in Beer or alcohol from outside the Solar System. It’s bootlegging. The film runs just like the first. Bandit runs defense, calling attention away from this huge freighter full of Oly barreling through space. And one Inter-galaxy sheriff, a quick descendent of Buford T. Justice, decides that it’s his sole mission to take the Bandit down. It’s a space chase with a few stops at the Choke and Puke. That’s the movie in a nutshell.
O: That’s kind of out there.
O: What does your future look like?
Tim: A lot like it does now. Except, there are more buildings and people. Semi-Trucks don’t have wheels, they hover. Some go into space. It’s not too fantastic. It’s not Back to the Future 2. This isn’t going to be an idealized version of what the future’s supposed to be. It doesn’t look like the cover of a Sixties-style Sci-Fi novel…Except for the robots. They’re going to be funky.
O: Any ideas about who’s going to play Smokey in this thing?
Tim: We initially wanted Cedric the Entertainer, but now that he’s doing The Honeymooners, he doesn’t want to pre-associate himself that closely with Jackie Gleason. He doesn’t want to do two Gleason roles back-to-back. He loved our script, but The Honeymooners was closer to going in front of the camera, so he jumped on that one. We’ve discussed getting a real redneck type instead. We want to keep it true to the roots of Buford. It would have been funny if his descendant was a black guy, cause Sheriff Justice was such a bigot, but then we’re faced with yells of ‘stunt-casting’. So, right now, we’re trying to get Woody Harrelson. He’s the guy we want right now. See, the Bandit’s going to be a thick guy with a bit of a beer gut on him. But the Sheriff is going to be sleek and mean. Less of a buffoon. He’s got the Bandit by the balls, but through pure drunk stupidity, the Bandit is able to bumble his way out of it at every turn. The Bandit seldom knows what he’s doing, and that works in his favor.
O: What about Snowman?
Tim: We’re pretty confident that Hank Williams III is going to be playing Snowman. Instead of Fred the dog, this time, Snowman’s got Andybot. Another robot that’s prone to malfunctioning. It’s a midget robot, kind of like Twiki. Did you know that Twiki was gay?
O: I never really thought about it.
Tim: How could he not be, what with that pageboy haircut. He hand-serviced Buck on all those long journeys into space. He could teleport an image of Erin Grey into Buck’s head while he was doing it. I think everyone needs a robot like that. Maybe that’s what Andybot does. I don’t know…
O: Why Olympia beer?
Tim: They don’t make it anymore. The Olympia Brewery went tits up. I think that it’s a fitting tribute. It’s Clint and Burt’s favorite beer. Go back and watch some of their movies from the ‘70s. In the Eiger Sanction, they’re drinking Oly. In Every Which Way But Loose, it’s Oly. Oly was the beer. In the first Bandit, it was Coors. In 4000, it’s Oly. Star 79 is the only known place that has untouched Tum Water. Remember, with Oly, it’s the water. It said that on the can. On the signs. If anything, Smokey and the Bandit 4000 is a tribute to a once great beer that’s no longer with us. In fact, in end credits, we’re going to have one of those “This is dedicated to…Oly Beer!”
O: Speaking of tributes…Are there going to be any tributes to Hal Needham?
Tim: Well, yes. Of course. The Semi-Truck race that opens the picture is going to be called the Needham 4000. Snowman’s running that with Andybot. And Snowman and Bandit go to the Palomino Bar, which was seen in Hooper and Every Which Way But Loose. We have to go there. That has to be ‘the bar’.
O: What about Burt? Is he going to do a cameo?
Tim: F*ck, he better. He did a cameo in 3, and that was ass compared to what we have here. We sure hope he does. I think he wants to. As scripted, his character in 4000 is going to make every fan wet their pants. It’s great. He’s seen the script. At first, he wasn’t happy with the direction we were taking The Bandit. But then we talked to him about the opening of 2, and how we’re going back to that. How this is supposed to be a straight-up comedy. Then he got. He loved it. I think…I hope; that might just be hearsay... But, yeah, we need to get him in there. That would rock. This wouldn’t be The Bandit 4000 without Burt in there somewhere.
O: What about Frog?
Tim: That’s a part of the script I’m not inclined to discuss at this current time.
O: Okay, well, I’ve got to head over to the screening room.
Tim: What are you seeing?
Tim: Hmm? Cool.
O: Good luck, I wish you the best.
Tim: Thanks…Oh, if you print this, The Bandit 4000 is not necessarily a ‘Disney’ film. Universal still owns the Franchise rights.
O: Good to know, see you later.
Tim: Enjoy the movie…
So, there you have it. Smokey and the Bandit 4 (Thousand) is coming to a theater near you in the Spring of 2005. Let’s start forming that line now!