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Film Review: The Cannonball Run
In 1981, Hal Needham released the comedy film, The Cannonball Run. Starring Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Dean Martin Sammy Davis Jr., George Furth, Jackie Chan, Jamie Farr, Terry Bradshaw, Mel Tillis, Adrienne Barbeau, Tara Buckman, Peter Fonda, Jack Elam, Rick Aviles and Alfie Wise, the film grossed $72 million at the box office. The sixth highest grossing film of 1981, it was followed by sequels Cannonball Run II and Speed Zone. This film and the first sequel were Dean Martin’s final appearances. It also won the Golden Raspberry for Worst Supporting Actress in the way of Fawcett.
Race car driver J. J. McClure and his mechanic counterpart Victor Prinzim participate in the Cannonball Run, an illegal race that spans the United States, in a van modified to be an ambulance. To serve as the real deal, they hire a doctor and kidnap a reporter to serve as a patient while dodging the arsenal of tricks the other drivers have in their way.
Though it can be considered quite the guilty pleasure, The Cannonball Run, isn’t a spectacularly bad film. It’s actually pretty fun with a many humorous moments and a decent story, even if the characters are pretty flat.
Though not a spectacular story, the film does have a pretty good plot to it, even though most of it centers on events that happen during the race and not about the actual race itself. In fact, a good chunk of the film is spent on introducing the characters and setting up the race, which doesn’t actually start until a third or halfway into the film. However, there are some pretty good scenes that are presented here. One that’s very notable happens to be the fight scene just before the climax where all the racers are waiting for the road to open up and get into a brawl with a gang of bikers. What really makes it is that it solidifies the already presented notion that all these racers are actually on good terms with each other and that there’s no bad blood between any of them, making the whole race just good fun. It also really helps that Sammy Davis Jr.’s character once again finds a phone to check out the odds.
Those moments also lend themselves to some pretty humorous situations prevalent in the film, even in areas where there would normally be a lot of tension, like the truck jumping the train scene. And there’s always every appearance of the Chinese team, especially when they drive by a couple of cops in a speed trap. Both acknowledge that they don’t know what they’ve just seen, but it’s going about 90. And they decide to just sit there. More humor comes from how J. J. and Victor decide that they’re going to use an ambulance when they’ve decided against a lot of other vehicles. They’re distracted by girls on a boat while they’re on their way to the starting line. The ending is also pretty funny in one of those boneheaded ways, presenting the final appearance of Captain Chaos saving a drowning dog, thereby costing Victor and J. J. the race. What makes it funny is how the character is oblivious to anything around him and thinks that saving said dog is the only thing that matters in the world.
Humorous Stupid Good Captain Chaos aside, while there are fun characters in the film, they’re all pretty much one sided and flat, carrying a blatant gimmick to make them stand out as funny. For one, there’s Jamie Farr’s character, who doesn’t get a lot of screen time to begin with. He’s a wealthy Arabian sheik who will win the race, even if it means he has to buy it. And while he’s got great potential as a character, it’s a shame that he’s not on screen enough to do much with it. Likewise, even though we’re given some characterization into Martin and Davis Jr.’s characters (Jamie Blake and Morris Fenderbaum), all we really know about them is that they’re crafty at trying to dispatch other characters and figure out what the best odds on the race are. Not too much more than that with them. Yet, it must be said that one of the best characters in the film is Seymour Goldfarb, Jr. a man played by Roger Moore who thinks he’s Roger Moore. And so he acts like James Bond throughout the film. Or at least, an embellished interpretation on Moore’s take on the character.
But that’s what gives it its charm. It’ll earn three stars and a recommendation to try watching at least once.
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