Stars: 3.5 out of 5
Length: 95 minutes
Release Date: June 19, 1981
Directed by: Hal Needham
Genre: Action / Comedy
“The Cannonball Run” is a raucous tale of several harebrained teams racing each other across the country for fame and fortune. There is not a serious scene to be found in this film, no moral lesson, no cinematic climax. There is no way to describe the plot because there is no true plot. The script is merely a set-up for unforgettable actors to have a riotous time on screen together.
The main characters are J.J. McClure (Burt Reynolds) and Victor (Dom DeLuise) who chose to masquerade as paramedics in the race to circumvent pesky traffic laws. The gorgeous Farrah Fawcett, played Pamela, enters the film when she is involved in a minor accident after the start of the race. She is a tree-hugging photographer who has traveled to protest the emissions-laden race with Arthur Foyt, a safety enforcement unit officer. J.J. and Victor pull over to offer assistance, but instead kidnap Pamela, who is kept in the Dodge ambulance under the guide of a patient. Dr. Van Helsing (Jack Elam), a creepy proctologist racing with the paramedic duo, keeps Pamela quiet with his oversized hypodermic needle. Whenever disaster strikes, Victor lapses into his alter ego, Captain Chaos.
Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. are gamblers hiding from sharks by pretending to be priests, albeit horny ones driving a red Ferrari. They are J.J. and Victor’s prime competitors and, in one scene, manage to trick the ambulance duo to pull over for a blessing. When the ambulance stops, they jump out and slash its tires. J.J. and Victor counter by notifying police that two sex perverts are masquerading as priests in a Ferrari. Roger Moore is spoof character Seymor Goldfarb, a man who fancies himself to be the James Bond actor Roger Moore. Jackie Chan makes his appearance on the Hollywood screen as part of the Japanese racing team. Terry Bradshaw and Mel Tillis are a couple of boorish yokels driving a NASCAR stock car. Jamie Farr is a crazed billionaire sheik in a white Rolls-Royce. Lamborghini-driving Marcie (Adrienne Barbeau) and Jill (Tara Buckman) form a sexy duo whose clothes stretch tight in all the right places. They unzip their unitards, in defiance of the PG rating, to dazzle cops and avoid tickets. Peter Fonda even makes an appearance as the leader of a biker gang, resulting in a roadside rumble. Jackie Chan jumps in with his signature martial arts moves.
The movie is one uproarious scene after the next of each team either evading the cops or sabotaging each other. The vehicles reach the race’s end point at the same time, resulting in a foot race to the finish. Captain Chaos loses the race to Marcie. He is not upset because he is invigorated with a new goal to be Captain USA. Arthur Foyt shows up to lament the race’s effects on American travel, but pseudo-double agent Seymour Goldfarb sends him flying into the water via his car’s ejection seat. The best part of the film, however, is the series of bloopers shown after the credits.
The difference between the madcap comedies of today and those of the era of “The Cannonball Run” are the performers. Current box-office hits contain casts who have been largely typecast into the comedic genre, whereas the cast of “The Cannonball Run” is composed of robust, multi-layered performers who have earned their stripes in both drama and comedy. Practitioners of human emotion and masters of characterization, the cast of “The Cannonball Run” makes this film a classic. Each scene and dialogue is replete with witty nuances make the film enjoyable whether watching it for the first time or the 50th.
Because they have earned their stripes in both comedy and drama, the actors are no longer trying to prove anything on screen. They are having fun portraying eccentric characters in a fast-paced action comedy. Done by any other cast, the plot would be ridiculous and the characters unbelievable. This all-star cast transforms a ludicrous plot and unbelievable characters into a hilarious adventure with eccentric characters that keep the viewer laughing. In fact, without the cast, “The Cannonball Run” would have been a certain flop, difficult for director Hal Needham to recover from.
The film’s outlandish, downright bizarre plot is hard to follow and full of holes, but no matter. The celebrated cast lifts the film far above its bizarre plot and unremarkable dialogue. “The Cannonball Run” is a montage of racial stereotypes, sexual humor, gags and a Who’s Who of American pop culture spoofing their most famous roles. This movie isn’t for the elite film critic to analyze and categorize. Instead, it’s a guilty pleasure for fans of funny Americana. It’s a movie made for popcorn and friends, not film school or art appreciation.
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