The Cannonball Run (1981)

The Cannonball Run Quad

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An ensemble cast “drives” (pun intended) the craziest car race in the United States, based on true events, and is hailed as one of the comedy classics of the 1980’s.

A major car race known as the Cannonball is going to begin in a few days. Many racers are ready, including former stock car racer Jamie Blake and his partner Fenderbaum; two women who plan to use their assets to evade the police; and Japan’s #1 racer and his techie partner. However, buddies J.J. and Victor have no working vehicle to enter the Cannonball. However, after a freak accident lands them in an ambulance, J.J. and Victor come up with a brilliant idea after learning how fast an ambulance can go.

The race is on and along the way, J.J. finds himself taking Pamela, a young woman who loves trees and is a poet, along for the ride. As the racers are on their way to California, A.J. Foyt, a political figure who is against racing, attempts to stop the illegal race by finding whoever is competing and having them arrested for breaking the law of the speed limit. Who will reach the finish line and who will find themselves under the mercy of the law?

Based on a one-time real life event, director Hal Needham and writer Brock Yates joined forces on this underrated comedy in which an ensemble cast of veteran stars would compete against each other in a cross-country car race. The Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash was an illegal car race that Yates had created in 1971 and he would base the film on his experiences with the five races that ran between 1971 to 1979.

The film’s ensemble consists of an eclectic cast of characters. Burt Reynolds’ J.J. is the dreamer, who wishes to win the Cannonball for the glory with Dom DeLuise as his mechanic, who has an alter ego in a fake superhero, Captain Chaos. Adrienne Barbeau and Tara Buckman play a duo of women who use their “assets” to get them out of speeding tickets with their Lamborghini. Roger Moore plays the heir to an undergarment empire who would rather play James Bond. Dean Martin is a former stock car racer with Sammy Davis Jr. as his bumbling partner. Jamie Farr brings hysterics as a Sheik while Jackie Chan and Michael Hui (two of film producer Golden Harvest’s biggest stars at the time) play the technically-enhanced duo driving a souped-up Subaru.

There are plenty of hilarious comic moments that showcase the chemistry of the film. They include an obvious rivalry between Martin’s Jamie Blake and Reynolds’ J.J. McClure where both Davis Jr.’s Fenderbaum and DeLuise’s Victor are involved as well as George Furth’s Foyt’s futile attempts to stop the Cannonball from happening by having racers arrested. Another funny aspect is Moore’s Seymour having a different woman in his car where he does his best James Bond impression and even driving a weaponized Aston Martin, but to comical effect. Jackie Chan and Michael Hui make the most of their limited screen time, with Chan going toe to toe with a cameo-appearing Peter Fonda as the leader of a biker gang. The use of the film’s end credit bloopers would eventually influence Chan to begin using outtakes during the end credits of his films.

The Cannonball Run is a fun underrated car race comedy that makes good use of its ensemble cast. Where it may look like the focus may be on one group, it is more of the ensemble getting nearly equal screen time all in the name of going from sea to shining sea.

WFG RATING: B+

20th Century Fox presents a Golden Harvest production. Director: Hal Needham. Producer: Albert S. Ruddy. Writer: Brock Yates. Cinematography: Michael C. Butler. Editing: Donn Cambern and William G. Gordean.

Cast: Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Dom DeLuise, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Jack Elam, Adrienne Barbeau, Tara Buckman, Terry Bradshaw, Mel Tillis, Jamie Farr, George Furth, Jackie Chan, Michael Hui, Bert Convy, Alfie Wise, Rick Aviles, Peter Fonda.

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