By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: An unofficial car race.
Every year a diverse group of individuals from all over the country converge onto New York to take part in a secret cross country race where drivers compete to see who can get from the east coast to the west coast first. There is no monetary prize or fame just a trophy filled with gumballs and one’s own ego as the reward. This year a cop named Roscoe (Norman Burton) is determined to stop the race and arrest those who are participating in it, but the drivers have some tricks up their sleeves to avoid his detection.
The film is based on the real-life race called The Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash that was run four times between the years of 1971 and 1979. It was named after Erwin George Baker, whose nickname was Cannonball, and who in 1933 drove from coast-to-coast in a record time that stood for over 40 years.
Like in the movie the drivers were from all walks of life and the race was not officially sanctioned and had no rules other than getting to California at a preset location first. However, unlike the movie there were few accidents while the film jazzes it up with an excessive amount of crashes until comes off like a live action cartoon, which is the main problem as everything gets dragged down to a kiddie level and comes complete with a music score that sounds like it was pulled straight out of a 1930’s nickelodeon.
The characters are nothing more than caricatures with Tim McIntire’s being the only one that is believable. Raul Julia’s is particularly annoying playing a man who is supposedly obsessed with winning, but then still stops off to have sex with women along the way, which seems like a contradiction. Burton, who ironically ended up dying in a real-life car crash, gets stuck in a one-dimensional role of a relentless, but ineffective cop whose exasperated mannerisms and reactions quickly becomes tiring.
There are a few good stunts, which can be credited to the film’s director Chuck Bail, who worked as a stuntman and coordinator for the greater part of his career. Watching the cars speed down the closed off streets of Park Avenue and Broadway in New York City during the early morning hours is impressive especially as its captured from the passenger’s point-of-view. The race between two cars along the Los Angeles River is equally exciting as is the scene involving a car managing to drive on its side for about a full minute down a packed highway.
The various comical scenarios that befall the characters during the race though are inane and hardly worth even a chuckle. The only ones of a minor interest is when a couple (Tricia O’ Neil, Lazaro Perez) tries to get away from a motorcycle gang as well as two drivers (Steven Keats, Wally Taylor) who are disguised as cops and driving inside a phony police vehicle who come to the aid of man and his pregnant wife on the side of a road. However, the whole thing would’ve been much better had the script kept things on a real level that was more focused on the people involved and their backgrounds instead of the silly stunts.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: July 28, 1976
Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes
Director: Chuck Bail
Studio: Warner Brothers
Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube