The Cannonball Run Movie Review
The next day in recess, freshly recovered from our afflictions, we traded reviews, and they were unanimous raves. We all thought the movie was hilarious and kick-ass, and for tween-to-teen boys, it really hit on all cylinders - fast cars racing, dick jokes, fast cars jumping, PG-level sex, fast cars exploding, xenophobic humor, and a big fistfight. This movie had it all.
We didn't know at the time that it was one of several B-movies based on a real-life race. But we did recognize that it was a steaming Jacuzzi of B-list talent, including Burt Reynolds, one of the James Bonds, Farrah Fawcett, two members of the Rat Pack, Terry Bradshaw, Peter Fonda, Jackie Chan, Dom DeLuise, and some people we recognized as regulars from The Match Game.
And we appreciated the story structure, obviously written for an audience of our age and/or mentality: A cast of wacky characters race coast-to-coast in an illegal grand prix, trying to outwit each other, the cops, and an anti-automotive "square" crusading to stop this disgusting spectacle.
As an ensemble piece, The Cannonball Run is all about the characters. Burt Reynolds is at his usual world-class irrepressibility, smart-assing his way out of jams and romancing the lovely Farrah in his wife beater. But he shares lots of screen time with the others, including his sidekick Dom DeLuise, an omega-male who inexplicably turns into a blimpy caped superhero when he needs to drive faster.
Also featured is Chan, as the driving half of a "high tech" Japanese team riding a tricked-out Subaru. Roger Moore bizarrely takes on the role of "Seymour Goldfarb," a rich kid who tells people he's Roger Moore and uses James Bond gadgetry; honestly, I still haven't figured this one out. Funniest but hardest to watch is the team of Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., as a couple of Vegas players who pilot a Ferrari in priest costumes. Martin seems feeble beyond his years on screen, and it's astonishing that he lived another 14 years after the movie came out.
Director Hal Needham got his start doing stunts for a young Burt Reynolds on Gunsmoke, which eventually led to a partnership that produced six movies starring Reynolds and a lot of cars jumping over water hazards - Smokey and the Bandit, Hooper, Smokey and the Bandit II, The Cannonball Run, The Cannonball Run II, and Stroker Ace. (His first true directing job was - surprise! - directing a car chase scene in The Longest Yard, starring Burt Reynolds.)
In The Cannonball Run, Reynolds pilots an EMT ambulance instead of his usual American Thunder, but Needham still exploits every opportunity to do horrible and exciting things to cars. Cars speed through the desert, cars pile up, cars jump into swimming pools, cars crash into hotel lobbies, all without any death or injury. This is a comic romp, after all.
Gratuitous automobile abuse and cameos apparently pay off when marketed to a demographic of boys and rednecks. The Cannonball Run was the fifth highest-grossing movie of 1981, ahead of Chariots of Fire, and it spawned two theatrical sequels. Authenticity was key: Run was scripted by Brock Yates, who allegedly sponsored a totally illegal, real-life coast-to-coast race.
Watching The Cannonball Run today evokes another age before The Fast and the Furious and NASCAR replaced the fun in racing with, respectively, death and science. In some sense, The Cannonball Run embodies what racing is supposed to be: dumb fun with a redneck streak. The aging fourth graders of the world thank you, Burt and Hal.
The DVD contains nothing extra of note, but the bloopers during the credits are classics.