Movie review: ‘The Cannonball Run’

crFun flicks are just that: fun. Don’t worry – you won’t find deep meaning (although there are a bunch of wonderful allegories in “Porky’s” … just kidding – click here for my review); and no one is out to duel with Olivier at the National Theatre (“Theater” if it were in the U.S.). Just sit back and enjoy a good one: the Burt Reynolds led “Cannonball Run.” It is a prime example of the genre. Plus, “Cannonball Run” has that big cast of a few stars, a few up-and-coming stars and a bunch of Hollywood soon-to-be-forgottens who still have a name. Finally, you don’t suspend your disbelief. You suspend any stereotype of a Burt Reynolds film and just enjoy it.

‘Cannonball Run’
(1981; 95 minutes; rated PG; directed by Hal Needham and starring Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore , Farrah Fawcett and just about everyone else in Hollywood in 1980)

DRIVE FAST OR THE SLAPSTICK WILL CATCH YOU

(NOTE: I expanded this review with some additional opinion, updated links and fixed some typos on March 3, 2016.)

Burt Reynolds’ films can be one of three genres: the serious (“Deliverance”), the funny but better-than-you-expected (“Smokey and the Bandit” – click here for my review – or “Hooper” – click here for my review of that one) and then finally we arrive at the last: the just plain fun. Today’s review of “Cannonball Run” falls squarely in the third category.

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Cannonball Run” has some sort of a plot and I guess that has to at least try on this point, but it’s not really germane to the movie. In the end, “Cannonball Run” has so many great stars that it’s fun just watching them and not really caring about what they’re doing. From Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. to Jackie Chan to Roger Moore doing a parody of his own “007,” this one is mind candy worth enjoying.

Cannonball Run” is named for the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash (follow the link to the Wikipedia.com entry for a full description). Unlike the far superior highway race film “The Gumball Rally” (click here for my review), “Cannonball Run” tries to tell a story but just comes off as a bunch of guys and a couple of women get out on the road for high-speed hijinks.

Director and former stuntman Hal Needham worked with Reynolds on a number of films, with the best two being “Smokey and the Bandit” (click here for my review) and “Hooper” (click here for my review). They also worked together on the miserable “Stroker Ace,” which is bad but has enough moments that you can hold your nose through the rest of it.

With no real plot to speak of, I’ll just run down through the impressive cast and how they work it:

  • Reynolds, who also did a nice comedic-dramatic turn as the perverted congressman in “Striptease” with Demi Moore and a nice dramatic turn in “Boogie Nights,” is just himself here. He has fun as “J.J. McClure;” is off-the-cuff (I’d say a lot of dialogue here is ad libbed); and watchable.
  • Dom DeLuise plays “Victor Prinzim,” who is Reynolds’ sidekick. DeLuise, who was also in “Smokey and the Bandit II” with Reynolds, does a good job, but doesn’t always keep from laughing at the jokes here. He has also been in “Fatso,” “Hot Stuff” and in the Reynolds-directed film “The End.” DeLuise’s alter ego here is “Captain Chaos,” a cartoonish character so ridiculous that you actually like him.
  • Moore is delightfully British as he spoofs his own “James Bond” character by playing himself. He even has a different woman (“Bond girl?”) in every scene. He must have had a lot of fun with this one.
  • Farrah Fawcett plays “Pamela,” a tree-hugger who winds up riding along (and is the love interest) for Burt. Fawcett, who was also in “Logan’s Run” as well as her signature role on TV’s “Charlie’s Angels.”
  • The two strangest performances are by Dean Martin as “Jamie Blake” and Sammy Davis Jr. and “Fenderbaum.” Both were in the original “Ocean’s 11” (click here for my review) and Martin was in “4 for Texas” and the “Matt Helm” rip-offs of “007” including “The Silencers” while Davis was in “Porgy and Bess” and “That’s Dancing!” The former Rat Pack-ers dress up as priests to fool cops along the race route and have interesting (read hilarious) run-ins with women and the cops. Plus, keeping in character, they drink like fish (no surprise).
  • Jack Elam plays “Dr. Nikolas Van Helsing” and is the doctor in the ambulance that Reynolds drives (no cop will stop an ambulance, right?). Elam, who was in “Rio Lobo” and “Support Your Local Sheriff,” is excellent as the creepy doctor (but watch out for his middle finger).
  • Jackie Chan is here in his second U.S. feature film (the first was “Battle Creek Brawl” in 1980 – click here for my review) as the driver of the Japanese entry in the race. He constantly bickers with his navigator. Chan has become a film factory in the U.S. including roles with the “Rush Hour” franchise, “Shanghai Knights” and “The Tuxedo.”
  • Jamie Farr, who was “Cpl. Max Klinger” in the TV classic “M*A*S*H,” plays an Arab sheik so stereotypical that it is almost not to be believed and he should have been ashamed to take the part. His sister is played by Bianca Jagger, who has less objectionable lines here.
  • Adrienne Barbeau plays “Marcie” and her teammate, Tara Buckman playing “Jill,” try to use their female charms to get away from cops (until they run into an equally endowed Valerie “Lenny” Perrine in an uncredited role as a cop). Barbeau was in “Escape from New York” (click here to read my review) and TV’s “Maude,” while Buckman was in “Silent Night, Deadly Night” and TV shows such as “CHiPs.”
  • Football players Terry Bradshaw (who was in “Hooper” with Reynolds) and Joe Klecko have roles here and are basically guys doing guy things. However, since Bradshaw, who was also in “Failure to Launch,” has country star Mel Tillis as a partner, he gets more screen time and he doesn’t disappoint.

Automotive journalist Brock Yates wrote “Cannonball Run” and is the co-founder of the real life “unofficial” race. He also as a small role as the organizer who explains the rules to the drivers at the beginning of the film.

One of the stunts in the film is Reynolds landing a small plane on a city street as he stops to get some beer (he’s drinking while flying, naturally). You can see the barricades police set up in the city to block off the street for the filming. Also, Burt wears one of his Florida State University hats in the plane (and DeLouise’s character’s name is one-letter off from Reynolds’ football friend from his FSU playing days).

Check it out if you can find it. You won’t have to think much and you’ll enjoy the youthful as well as veteran star power.

Cannonball Run” did $72.1 million at the domestic box office and was the sixth ranked film of the year, according to Box Office Mojo. It was a major success since it was created on a budget of $16 million to $18 million, according to Wiki. The No. 1 film of the year was “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with $212.2 million. Here are some films from the same year that I have reviewed:

Other cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):

  • The extended cast includes actors, entertainers and notables such as Peter Fonda (a biker), Bert Convy (one of the “Cannonballers”), Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder (a sports oddsmaker playing a sports oddsmaker), Johnny Yune (talk show host), Molly Picon (Moore’s mother) and comedian Rick Aviles (a “Cannonballer”).
  • Longtime Reynolds friend in real life Alfie Wise plays “Batman” and is Aviles’ partner. Wise was also in “Smokey and the Bandit” (click here for my review) and “Hooper” with Reynolds (click here for my review).
  • Directly from IMDb.com: “The ambulance used in the movie is the actual ambulance that Hal Needham and Brock Yates souped up and raced in the real Cannonball Run. It had been modified with a HEMI engine that made it go up to 145 mph …” They didn’t win; Needham kept the ambulance in storage and later donated it to a church that sold it at a charitable auction.
  • Reynolds received a then-record $5 million salary for the film. He put in a total of three weeks work on the project. Nice payday, Burt.
  • I’m glad that Sammy Davis Jr. was in the film with Dean Martin, but he wasn’t the filmmakers’ first choice. Don Rickles was considered first, but the part went to Davis.
  • Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “George Furth’s character (Arthur J. Foyt) was named as an tribute to IndyCar and NASCAR legend Anthony Joseph Foyt Jr. (a.k.a. A.J. Foyt).”

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014-2016.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without
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