Tag Archives: Hal Needham

Cannonball Run II (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Too much lame humor.

Since the first installment of this franchise ended up taking in $72 million and becoming the 6th highest grossing film of 1981 the studio heads in their typical fashion decided to capitalize on it and squeeze as much breath out of the cornball concept as they could, which lead to this ill-advised sequel. As lame as the first one was this one is even worse and even less focused on racing.

The actual race, if you can call it that, doesn’t begin until 45 minutes in with the whole first half spent dealing with the silly backstories of how each ‘zany character’ decides to get back into the event, which is all very unnecessary and just an excuse to bombard the viewer with an onslaught of stupid gags that are on a kindergarten level. Once the race does get going it’s spent dealing with cartoonish stunts and then ends with a long drawn-out fight between the drivers and some gangsters, which makes it seem like it shouldn’t be called a racing movie at all.

Roger Ebert described the film as “one of the laziest insults to the intelligence of moviegoers that I can remember” and he’s right. Some silly humor is okay, but there needs to be another added element. For instance in The Gumball Rally, which wasn’t all that great, but still far better than this, there was the same silliness, but at least there was also one scene showing from a driver’s point-of-view a car speeding down the closed off streets of Park Avenue, which was that film’s best moment. In Paul Bartel’s Cannonball! you had a horrific car crash, which was controversial, but at least gave it some sort of edge. This film has no edge it’s just one-dimensional stupidity from the first frame to the last. The opening sequence is almost shot for shot the exact same as the one in the first installment, which shows how limited writer/director Hal Needham’s creative well likely was.

The only interesting aspect about it as with the first movie is the eclectic cast. Dean Martin for what it’s worth looks much more energized here than he did in the first one and Sammy Davis Jr. is quite funny and if they had built the film around him it would’ve been an improvement. It’s also fun seeing Richard Kiel playing a more normal type of person and not just a doofus giant caricature like he usually got stuck with. However, this installment also has Alex Rocco and Abe Vigoda playing gangsters who try various inane ways to stop Jamie Farr’s Arab character from winning, which makes the stunts in an old Wily E. Coyote/Road Runner cartoons seem genuinely highbrow by comparison.

I was surprised to see Shirley MacLaine in this thing. She possibly took the part so she could reunite with her Rat Pack co-stars even though she never appears in any scene with them, but she had just gotten done winning the Academy Award for Terms of Endearment and it was like receiving all the accolades and prestige that comes with that award and then immediately throwing it all in the toilet by doing something that was completely beneath her talents. Her part is quite small and insignificant. Marilu Henner, who plays her partner as two out-of-work actresses disguised as nuns, comes off better and looks younger and prettier, which made me think Maclaine’s role could’ve been excised completely and simply combined with Henner’s.

What’s even more surprising is the presence of Reynolds. Back in 1982 he stated that he wasn’t going to do anymore ‘car chase movies’ and even turned down on an offer to star in Smokey and the Bandit III for that reason, so then why star in something that is just as bad or even worse. I think he can be a strong actor if given a good script and  I meet the man back in 1995 and shook hands with him during a book signing, so I don’t mean to seem overly harsh, but his brand became stigmatized by doing too many of these ‘good-ole’ boy’ productions and he was never able to recover. He had a brief renaissance with Boogie Nights, but that was about it. Starring in ‘Evening Shade’ doesn’t count because TV work is considered a downgrade from being in the movies and usually only taken when the movie roles dry up. The scene where he dresses up in a harem costume and pretends to be a female dancer is particularly demeaning and has to be considered an embarrassing career low point for any star that was once considered a male hunk.

Fortunately the audiences had wised up and after a strong opening weekend the film’s box office returns plummeted and it only ended up grossing $28 million, which was far less than the first one. This thankfully slowed up the need to make any more cannonball movies although in 1989 they made one more called Speed Zone, which because I’ve become very burnt out with these car racing flicks will be reviewed at a later time…a MUCH later time.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: June 29, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Hal Needham

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Megaforce (1982)

megaforce 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: This is really embarrassing.

The fictional country of Sardun is being threatened by their neighbor Gamibia and mercenary General Duke Gurerra (Henry Silva). This prompts two Sardun representatives (Edward Mulhare, Persis Khambatta) to travel to the desert and request help from a secret group of soldiers who have advanced vehicles and weapons that can help stop the Gamibian aggression. The group calls themselves Megaforce and is led by the charismatic Ace Hunter (Barry Bostwick) who at one time was friends with Gurerra and the two play an intricate game of cat-and-mouse as they both try to deploy an attack strategy that will stop the other.

One of the biggest problems with the film is that it was directed by Hal Needham a former stuntman who had some modest success directing such southern fried action flicks as Smokey and the Bandit and Hooper, but clearly has no clue how to do a comic book-styled action flick such as this. The film teeters between being campy and comical to innovative and slick, but ends up failing on both ends. The main problem is that Nedham (who also appears unbilled as a technician) lacks any true artistic vision while showing no appreciation or understanding of the comic book genre or its readers and creates an empty-headed, unimaginative premise with wooden characters and dialogue surrounded by a lot of action and effects, which he thinks will be enough to save it, but really isn’t.

The eclectic cast is interesting. Khambatta a beauty queen from India who is probably best known for playing the bald Ilia in Star Trek: The Motion Picture is on hand as the love interest to Bostwick. Michael Beck who was just 3 years removed from his star making turn in the cult hit The Warriors plays a southern bred member of the Megaforce team. Silva, who’s played many memorable villains in his day camps it up as best he can with the limited material and Bostwick, who nowadays looks very old and elderly, sashays his way in some incredibly skintight uniforms and looking almost like a male model.  

The only reason I’m giving this embarrassment 3 points instead of the 0 that it really deserves is because it does fall into the ‘so bad its good category’ that almost makes it worth catching. The best of the worst is Needham’s use of matting a character over a blue screen to make it look like they are flying in the air. He does this twice once when Khambatta and Bostwick go parachuting out of a plane and then at the climactic finish when Bostwick uses his motorbike to fly up to a plane. In both instances the effects are so hilariously awful and obvious that it becomes memorable and worth the price of the rental.

megaforce 1

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 25, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Hal Needham

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray (Region A)

Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

smokey and the bandit 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: On the road again.

Hal Needham is to bad movies like a cow is to milk and yet when compared to his later efforts this really isn’t too bad especially when you factor in that the main goal was to create light entertainment, which is what this amounts to.

The ‘story’ involves truck driver Cledus (Jerry Reed) bootlegging beer across state lines. Partner Bandit (Burt Reynolds) acts as a decoy by driving in front of the truck in a car with a souped up engine. Jackie Gleason plays the sheriff out to get them.

The set-up could have been played out more and would have been funnier if it had. Sally Field is a nice addition and has a rare turn of being portrayed as a sexy lady. Her initial banter with Reynolds is fun, but having their relationship immediately turn romantic bogs everything down. It would have worked better had things stayed slightly antagonistic and then turned lovey-dovey only at the very end.

Reynolds has always had great charm and it’s played to the hilt here. His laugh alone is infectious, but he seems a little bit too laid back and detached. He goes through all sorts of wild car chases, but neither he nor is car ever receive even a little scratch. The police are also too inept and it would have been nice if they had, even momentarily, apprehended Reynolds just too prove they were a viable threat and given this thing a little tension.

Gleason is fun and his presence gives this film most of its points. Unlike Reynolds he isn’t so detached and he infuses his part with a lot of energy. His ad-libbed scatological lines at the beginning are great as is his coined “sumbitch” phrase. Seeing him stubbornly continue to drive his squad car even as it becomes increasingly smashed up is a good piece visually.

However, the film tends to water-down his character, which was a mistake. The biggest problem is the fact that he is initially portrayed as an intimidating figure. Then it proceeds to show him constantly out ranked and out managed by the other police forces in all the other counties he goes into while chasing Reynolds. Eventually it makes him seem too ineffectual and stupid. It would have worked better had the chase taken place solely in Gleason’s county, therefore having him stay funny, but still maintaining his menacing presence. It also would have been nice to have more direct confrontations between him and Reynolds although the one they do have is pretty good.

Needham was a former stunt man so the actual star of the picture is supposed to be the stunt work, but this area seems pretty derivative and features stuff that has been done hundreds of times before. The chases should’ve been extended and shot from more exciting angles. The climatic chase sequence is weak and can’t even hold a pinkie to the one used in The Blues Brothers.

Overall though it has enough good banter and star chemistry to be amiable.

smokey and the bandit 2

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 27, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Hal Needham

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, HDDVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video