Plot: While he sits in jail for running moonshine, Gator McClusky (Burt Reynolds) learns his little brother has been killed. After an escape fails, Gator pitches a plan to help catch a corrupt sheriff (Ned Beatty) in exchange for his freedom. He is released and heads out, where he meets up with a hesitant helper named Dude, a veteran runner named Rebel Roy, and Roy’s “friendly” girlfriend Lou. Soon Gator, Roy, and Lou are out on runs and all the while, Gator is making notes about the moonshine routes. As he gets closer to his goal however, he realizes that handing over the information he’s collected will put a lot of good people in trouble. So he shifts focus and decides to go after the sheriff alone, driven to do whatever it takes to take him down. When things between Gator and the sheriff turn very personal, can a simple man like Gator take down the powerful sheriff?
Entertainment Value: This is not a blood soaked or sex filled kind of movie, instead it drips with Southern texture. The cast is great and seems right at home in the roles, from Burt Reynolds in the lead to Ned Beatty as the crooked sheriff to Jennifer Billingsley as the flirty and fun Lou. I have a soft spot for deep south moonshine running movies, so White Lightning hits that mark quite well. The story is solid and while not deep or complex, it moves at a nice pace and never slows down much. Solid production values, authentic locations, and just an overall immersive atmosphere help push White Lightning higher than perhaps the simple story deserves. I know this doesn’t seem like the typical movie I’d cover here, but this kind of “hicksploitation” can be a lot of fun, even when the pros try their hand.
You won’t see any nudity in White Lightning, as ole Gator is focused on revenge over getting his beak wet. There are quite a few women with that special 70s style beauty, but they remain clothed here. By the same token, blood is minimal but there is some violence from time to time. This ranges from fist fights to a couple shoot outs, but they’re not graphic at all. White Lightning does have fun car chases however, which are even more fun knowing they were practical stunts not the CGI messes we endure these days. A lot of great lines can be found in White Lighting and they really shine since the cast is on point and makes the most of the script. I wouldn’t label this as an insane movie, but it does have odd moments, to be sure. A personal favorite is when Gator wakes up at a home for pregnant teens with a circle of the expecting mothers looming over him. White Lightning might not be exploitation cinema, but it offers a big dose of southern fried charm and start to finish fun.
Overall Insanity: 3/10