"Another in Those 'White Trash and Fast Cars' Entries"
If Reynolds's character in "Deliverence" had moved down South afterward, this is probably how he'd have turned out.Far be it from me to lavish superlatives onto a strictly-formula cinematic endeavor like White Lightning, but it's fairly entertaining from start to finish and possessive of a textured milieu of a Deep South county chock-full of fast cars and awash in oodles of illegal non-taxed moonshine. Burt Reynolds is a state prisoner with a year left of his four-year sentence whose younger college brother and friend are executed by corrupt-to-the-bone sheriff Ned Beatty: at the very opening, they're rowed out to the middle of a lake and deep-sixed while alive with tied hands and concrete-blocked feet. After Reynolds, who wants to avenge the deaths, tries an impromptu escape and is caught, he manages to cut a deal with an FBI agent to get out of jail and serve as a "blocker" for a moonshine transporter with the goal of getting evidence on the sheriff who collects a cash portion of every moonshine transaction. Pretty soon, his considerable driving skills earn him the respect of his employer and the lustful affection of the man's steady girlfriend. That's pretty much all of the story, which is fine because there's not anything even remotely complex to it -- it's merely a broad blueprint where machismo and burnt tire rubber rule the day. Usually a director of mediocrities, Joseph Sargent (who'll probably never be forgiven for Jaws: The Revenge) manages to install the proceedings with both atmosphere and pace; he doesn't go for any inappropriate artsy touches that would've clashed with the well-etched sense of dailiness that the film has in spades. And action junkies will surely be pleased by the numerous car chases, each of which is staged with control yet a looseness that keeps them from becoming numbingly mechanical. (There's an especially nifty one where Reynolds comes from behind a police car and inserts himself into the middle of the chase to protect his boss.) The screenplay is really neither here nor there -- it gets things right about half the time, which isn't a bad percentage at all even though the dialogue is as subpar as you can get and we're unclear as to how Reynolds managed his jail break without getting over some kind of wall (I know not all state prisons are basking in funds, but c'mon). As for the acting, Beatty effectively underplays as the villain, Matt Clark is his usual affable self as Reynolds's nervous confidant, Bo Hopkins again proves his solidity as the main moonshiner, Jennifer Billingsley is spunky in a crudely-conceived role as the love interest, and there's Reynolds himself radiating charisma while admirably staying in character even in a thin genre piece like this. White Lightning (a title of more verve than the film actually has) isn't as goofily enjoyable as Smokey and the Bandit and The Cannonball Run, which simply have more bounce and energy, but for the undemanding on a rainy Saturday afternoon before going out to dinner, it should agreeably suffice.While the film was shot in 1.85:1 and not in true-widescreen 2.35:1, MGM Home Video still should be spanked for giving it a cropped 1.33:1 transfer.