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The Cannonball Run (1981)

Updated on October 18, 2010

Having watched "The Cannonball Run" many times since my childhood I have grown to wonder whether it really is a movie or just a bunch of actors and friends having a good time. Yes it has a story, based around the cross country road race to California but the race seems unimportant as director Hal Needham seems to focus on the comedy and characters with many a scene feeling like a set piece fir yet another gag between either Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise or Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. to name just a few of the many stars who appear and appear to have a good time in the "The Cannonball Run". It's not terrible, daftly amusing but difficult to take seriously as a coherent movie.

Based upon a real life race "The Cannonball Run" follows the crazy antics of J.J. McClure (Burt Reynolds - Mystery Alaska), Victor Prinzim (Dom DeLuise - The Glass Bottom Boat) and many others as they try to be the quickest across country, avoid police traps and win a fortune on the process.

Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise and Jack Elam in The Cannonball Run
Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise and Jack Elam in The Cannonball Run

So the storyline, well let's be frank there isn't really one, or at least not one of any true significance. What we do get is introductions to the various men & women who plan to race in the Cannonball Run, their various exploits as they high tail it across country racing each other and the police as well as busy body official who is upset by all the crazy car racing and tries their hardest to stop them. That's it and although each racing pairing have a sort of story to go with them such as Victor Prinzim having the alter ego Captain Chaos none of it makes the storyline in the least bit more important.

What this means is that "The Cannonball Run" is a movie all about comedy, crazy car antics, quirky characters and general chaos. It sort of works in a very daft way with many of the jokes feeling manufactured, designed purely to get a gag in rather than add anything meaningful. But there is no denying that the comedy of Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise masquerading as ambulance drivers, Jack Elam as the less than handsome Doctor Nikolas Van Helsing or Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. as priests in a Ferrari all generate brilliant laughs.

Jackie Chan in The Cannonball Run
Jackie Chan in The Cannonball Run

One of the many reasons why I wonder if "The Cannonball Run" really is a movie is that it often feels like someone has left the camera on and caught the stars just having fun rather than acting. Half way through a scene either Burt Reynolds or Dom DeLuise will be sniggering, trying their hardest not to laugh, which if you sit through the end credits you will see was more often the case with a series of outtakes. It has that sort of friendly feeling of chums having a few drinks and we are privy to their drunken escapades.

As for the acting, well for the most I don't think you can call it acting because as already mentioned it just feels like friends having a laugh and no one really has a characters, or if they do they are playing to type. What this means is that "The Cannonball Run" has a long list of stars including Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Terry Bradshaw, Jamie Farr, Jackie Chan, Peter Fonda and of course the already mentioned Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. all having fun, being daft and for the most playing to the public perception of them. The only actor who you could accuse of acting is George Furth who as Arthur J. Foyt is the officious little man desperate to stop the Cannonballers having fun.

What this all boils down to is that whilst "The Cannonball Run" is a lot of fun with crazy car antics more akin to the whacky races it never really feels like a proper movie. With no really storyline and so much giggling going on from the stars as they try to keep a straight face it's both amusing and forgettable.


Title: The Cannonball Run
Year: 1981
Length: 95 mins
Certificate: PG
Genre: Comedy, Action
Director: Hal Needham
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Jack Elam, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Terry Bradshaw, Jamie Farr, Jackie Chan, Peter Fonda, George Furth

About Me

Andy Webb writes movies reviews covering everything from the classics through to modern. Visit The Movie Scene To read more of my movie reviews.


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      7 years ago

      Great article. I, too, am a big Cannonball Run fan. I agree with your take as well. When watching, it's hard to figure out what was in the script and what was ad-libbed; you just know they had a blast filming it. That's why Frank Sinatra wanted to be a part of the sequel (which was, unfortunately, not as good as the first). Enjoyed the article! :)


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