The Cannonball Run (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: A very stupid movie.

This film is based on the same real-life cross country race that also inspired The Gumball Rally and Cannonball, but unlike those two, which weren’t very good anyways; this movie doesn’t emphasize the race and doesn’t even get going with it until 35 minutes into the runtime. Instead the viewer gets treated to one lame, cornball gag after another making the already threadbare premise seem like only an afterthought.

The most surprising thing is that the screenplay was written by Brock Yates, who was the man who came up with the idea for the race back in 1971 and was participant in all 4 times that it ran. In fact both he and director Hal Needham took part in the 1979 race as driving partners using the very same ambulance that Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise use in the movie. The two pretended to be actual paramedics in order to avoid being stopped by cops when they sped. They even hired a medical doctor to ride along in back to make it seem more legit in case they did get pulled over and Yates’ wife was used as a pretend patient. They almost won it too out of 46 other participants that ran, but lost when their transmission conked out 50 miles from the finish line.

You would think if the script was written by someone who had actually driven in the race that he would’ve been able to offer more insight about the experience, but instead we get bombarded with ‘zany characters’ that are so outlandishly over-the-top that you feel embarrassed for the actors playing them.

The only interesting aspect is the eclectic cast that unfortunately, like with the movie, seem uninspired and going through the motions simply to collect a paycheck. Reynolds, who admitted in interviews to not liking the movie and having ‘sold-out’ simply for the salary, is especially lethargic. He’s not involved in much of the action and never even seen driving while wearing what looks like a wig and ultimately at the cusp of what would eventually be a major career downturn that he was never able to fully recover from.

Supporting players seem almost exploited particularly Jack Elam whose real-life handicap gets used to make his character seem ‘crazy’. Back when he was a child he got into a fight with another kid at a Boy Scout meeting and his left eye was poked with a pencil, causing him to lose his sight with it and giving him a perennial ‘lazy-eye’ that never moved in tandem with his right one. To help make this less pronounced he grew a mustache and beard, but here that gets shaved off making his weird gaze more pronounced, but the ‘crazy look’ gag is a boring one-joke that gets way overplayed.

Dean Martin, in his first movie in 6 years, looks old and washed-up. His Rat Pack partner Sammy Davis Jr. is also on-hand, but is much more energetic and into it while Martin walks around constantly with a drink in hand and looking ready for the grave.

The only member of the cast that comes off well is Farrah Fawcett who was at her all-time hottest and is just cute enough to keep the film passable, but the rest of it is worthless. Silly humor is okay as long as other elements are wrapped around it, but this thing has nothing else to offer. It’s just one stupid comedy bit after another that will prove too moronic for even those with a low bar.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 19, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Hal Needham

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

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