A couple weeks back, I discovered a small nugget of gold with Moonshine County Express, a forgotten Moonshiner movie from the 1970s. So imagine my surprise when I saw Gator, starring Burt Reynolds as the titular booze running anti-hero Gator McClusky, beckoning to me from the deep bowels of the Amazon Prime Dungeon. Add to the mix sultry Lauren Hutton in her prime and the always oily Jerry Reed as villain Bama Mcall. Oh yeah, I need to check this out.
Oh dear god, I wish I hadn’t. The movie starts off fine with “The Ballad of Gator McClusky” sung by Jerry Reed that talks about Moonshinin’, shotguns, and eatin’ rattlesnake. But that’s ruined immediately by a deadly dull, utterly pointless speedboat chase that takes up the first 20 minutes. There are no other action scenes in the movie. There is also no Moonshine distilling or bootlegging or gators or rattlesnakes of any kind, the only reasons I signed up for this particular endeavor. And then the movie stops dead for about an hour of Burt Reynolds making kissy-faces at Lauren Hutton. Only after sitting through this tedious, nearly action-free and joke-free action-comedy, I found out that it’s actually a sequel to another forgotten Burt Reynolds Moonshine movie, White Lightning, and that Burt made his directorial debut with this one. So of course, with no check on his power, Burt was free to indulge every one of his bad habits: his gum-chewing and lackadaisical attitude to the movie he’s in, his propensity to improvise bad one-liners and then have the other characters in the movie laugh at them, and his total indifference to the fact that his hero is a scumbag.
Okay, let’s get to the bare minimum of plot going on here. Reformed bootlegger Gator McClusky is asked/blackmailed by a government agent, played by Jack Weston in the Ned Beatty role of the sweaty, comedy relief fat guy in a white suit, to help infiltrate the criminal network of crime boss Bama McCall, played with manful sideburns and villainous gusto by Jerry Reed. In fact, Reed is so slimy and disgusting that, instead of making him a lovable villain, he’s thoroughly hateful and repulsive. You don’t want to see him get his comeuppance, you want him to just leave the movie. Bama and Gator have a history together, so Gator is a natural pick to go undercover as, uh, reformed bootlegger Gator McClusky, to dig up dirt on Reed for the Feds. Along the way, Gator falls for plucky investigative reporter Lauren Hutton and then doesn’t do much for the nearly two hours of running time.
Burt’s mission digging up dirt on his old buddy’s gambling, drugs, and underage prostitution empire is definitely a slow burn. Burt doesn’t do anything overt to stop Jerry Reed from doing evil things. There’s also several “comedic” set-pieces, including a stupid heist where Burt, Lauren Hutton, and Crazy Cat Lady break into City Hall while toting around two cats. There’s a terrible scene of Burt bantering with two 8-year-old boys who have jokingly kidnapped their friend’s dog and are demanding ransom on the pay phone. Burt needs to phone fake-Ned Beatty as the poop has hit the fan in his investigation, but instead of shoving the brats out of the phone booth, he plays along with their game, eventually buying the dog’s freedom for two dollars. And finally there’s the awful scene where Jerry Reed invites Burt to sleep with one of the drugged, underage prostitutes. It’s not clear what Burt is thinking, but that doesn’t stop him from violently shaking her and shouting at her to snap out of her drug-induced stupor.
In a prolonged, torturously awful scene, Burt is offered a blatantly drugged drink by Jerry Reed’s man-beast bodyguard Bones. Does Burt throw the drink in Jerry Reed’s face? Does he pretend to be drugged but secretly spit out the drink? Nope. Instead, for what feels like an hour, Burt slowly gets drugged, slurs his words, sweats profusely, laughs hysterically at his captors, and then passes out. And in one of the stupidest villain blunders ever, instead of beating him up or murdering Gator, Jerry Reed puts him on the bus for the border of Alabama. That’s it. Does Burt come back? Sort of. Eventually he does, right in time for one brief, crappy car chase and a terrible climactic fistfight where Burt and Jerry smash through cardboard buildings on the beach.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I hated every goddamn 115 minutes of this movie. Well, all except for Reed’s opening titles theme, “The Ballad of Gator McClusky” featuring lines like:
“He was raised in the swamp
In the back of a slough.
He grew up eatin’ rattlesnake meat
And drinkin’ homemade brew.
Now folks here about call him Gator.”
That promises far more awesomeness than this movie is willing or capable of pulling off. Even the Lauren Hutton seduction scene is ruined because Burt’s such a sweaty sleazeball in too-tight jeans that he never so much as unbuttons his shirt. Even before I knew Burt was responsible, I could tell the direction was terrible. Each scene is sluggishly paced. Everyone is doing a different bad Southern accent, and there are so many unfunny jokes without punchlines.
Maybe if I find White Lightning on Amazon I will give Gator another try, but otherwise, this is a terrible movie that should be avoided at all costs.