I feel a little sad watching this movie right now, seeing as how Burt Reynolds has just recently passed away. However, this was actually the first Burt Reynolds movie I remember seeing as a kid so a happy memory kind of balances it out. Anyways, I remember seeing The Cannonball Run as a kid but I didn’t learn until years later that it was actually based on real events. That actually made it more fun for me to watch this movie a few years ago and just as fun to rewatch it today.
The plot: Two girls, Jill Rivers and Marcie Thatcher, are speeding down the highway in a black Lamborghini Countach, taunting a highway patrol officer that is trying to catch them before they cross the state lines. Meanwhile, J.J. McClure and his friend Victor Prinzim are discussing the upcoming Cannonball Run as J.J. works on getting their car ready. When Victor mentions “Him”. J.J. hits his head on the car’s trunk, then tells Victor he doesn’t want to see “Him”, or even talk about “Him”. Later, as they are test driving the car, they come across a police road block and swerve to avoid it but end up crashing their car. As the cops go to check on the drivers, Victor, wearing a cape and mask, emerges from the car and tells the cop that he is Captain Chaos and J.J. is his companion Kato. Later, J.J. and Victor are trying to come up with a new idea for a car to drive when they get into a boating accident and as they are being driven to the hospital in an ambulance, they realize that they can get away with speeding if they are in an ambulance. Elsewhere, Morris Fenderbaum is going to place a bet on himself winning the Cannonball Run and as the bookie laughs at him, Morris points out his driver, former Formula One racer Jamie Blake. Other competitors entering the Cannonball Run are Jill and Marcie, the two girls driving the Lamborghini, Seymour Goldfarb Jr., heir to the Goldfarb Girdles fortune who has begun to identify himself as actor Roger Moore from the James Bond films, Jackie Chan and Micheal Hui, two Japanese racers who are driving a high tech car filled with computerized controls, a Middle-Eastern Shiekh who wants to race against the infidels of America, and Terry and Mel, two good ol’ boys who want to race. Terry and Mel inadvertently crash their car into a pool while trying to avoid a police car and as they are re-tuning their engine, they inadvertently ruin an environmental meeting that Arthur J. Foyt is speaking at. Vowing to stop the Cannonballers from having their race, Foyt is talking with Pamela Glover, a photographer who was at the meeting because she loves trees, when two more Cannonballers, Mad Dog and Batman, crash into the front lobby and knock him out but J.J. and Victor arrive, disguised as Ambulance drivers, show up and revive him. Later, Foyt and Pamela are at the hotel bar when he realizes that most of the people there are Cannonballers and goes to make plans to stop them. Meanwhile, J.J. and Victor are discussing how to get a doctor and a patient to ride in the ambulance with them to complete their disguise. When they notice Jill and Marcie sitting at a table, they approach them about being their patient but are surprised to learn that they are Cannonballers as well. As J.J. turns away, he notices Pamela and goes to talk to her but as they are talking, he is interrupted by Victor and Pamela leaves the table. The next night, the Cannonballers are told the rules of the race, receiving a time card that they punch as they leave the hotel and must punch in at the finish line. Whoever has the fastest time wins the race. As the Cannonballers are all leaving, J.J. asks Victor where the doctor is and when Victor tells him that the doctor got sick, J.J. sends him out to get one. Meanwhile, Foyt and Pamela are watching the cars leave and trying to get all of their license plates but after Mad Dog drives through the woods as a short cut, he decides to try and stop the race now. Victor tells J.J. he has found a doctor but when J.J. opens the door, he is shocked at the appearance of Doctor Nikolas Van Helsing but is upset that they don’t have a patient. However, a little ways down the road, the see Pamela and Foyt in need of assistance and when they pull over, they grab Pamela but drive off before Foyt can get in the ambulance. As they make their way down the road, Pamela is upset about being kidnapped but Van Helsing gives her some laughing gas just as they are pulled over by police. J.J. tells the police that they are taking the Senator’s wife to UCLA Medical Center, and Van Helsing explains that her condition prevents her from flying and that they can’t even go to Denver because it is too high. As all of the Cannonballers make their way to L.A., they all use various means to try and get out of getting busted by the cops; such as Jill and Marcie using their sex appeal to get the cops to not write them tickets while Jackie and Michael turn off their headlights and use infrared to drive at night and not be seen. J.J. and Victor are still driving when Jamie and Morris, disguised as priests, pull up next to them and offer to bless them and their occupants. J.J. knows they are fakes but Victor falls for their trick and pulls over and as Jamie goes to bless them, especially Pamela, Morris lets the air out of one of their tires. J.J. and Victor fix the tire and get back on the road and as they stop for gas further down the road, J.J. sees Jamie and Morris coming and he alerts a nearby cop that they are disguised as priests and had flashed their patient earlier, causing them to be held up. Foyt is continuing his quest to stop the Cannonballers and has a roadblock set up to grab them but J.J. uses the CB in the ambulance to radio a flatbed truck in front of them and they are able to get past the roadblock under the truck and as they do so, Victor works on their transmission while J.J. and Pamela talk and get closer to each other. The race continues, with the Cannonballers encountering the police more and more, until they are stopped by road construction in the California desert. J.J., Victor, Pamela, Van Helsing, Jamie, Morris, Jill, Marcie, Mad Dog, Batman, Jackie, Michael, Seymour (with his latest girl) are waiting for the road to open up when Brad and Shakey Finch, disguised as a honeymoon couple on a motorcycle, pull up. Suddenly, a biker gang shows up and starts harassing Brad and Shakey and when Victor, dressed as Captain Chaos, rushes out and starts fighting the bikers, the other Cannonballers join in the fray. As the fighting continues, the construction crew lets Jamie know that the road is open and all of the Cannonballers race back to their cars. Victor had taken off his mask when he got back in the ambulance and as the ambulance falls behind the other cars, J.J. chastises him for it but Victor dons the Captain Chaos garb again and begins easily passing the other racers. When they reach the pier, Everyone starts racing to the clock and J.J. hands Captain Chaos their card, then tackles the other racers, leaving Captain Chaos and Marcie as the only runners. Captain Chaos is in the lead and about to win but when he hears a woman scream that her baby is drowning, he hesitates briefly before dashing off to rescue the baby, which turned out to be her dog. Marcie wins the race and as J.J. and approaches Captain Chaos, he chastises Victor and says that he cost them the race. He then rips off the mask and cape and tells Victor that he never wants to see Captain Chaos again but Victor says he doesn’t care, quickly donning a new cape and mask and says that he wanted to be Captain U.S.A. anyways, causing J.J. and the others to start laughing. As the Cannonballers celebrate, Foyt arrives and starts berating them for what they did on the highway. Seymour offers him a cigar and tells him to use the lighter in his car, as it is rigged as a button for an ejector seat but when nothing happens, Seymour tries it himself and ends up being launched into the bay.
The Cannonball Run was panned by more recent critics, currently holding a 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While there isn’t a critical consensus on the site, most of them felt that the movie felt like nothing more than Burt Reynolds hanging out with some of his pals and cracking inside jokes with each other. Director Hal Needham and writer Brock Yates were actual competitors in the real Cannonball Race, which Yates had created, and the ambulance used in the film was their actual car from the last race. It had been kept in storage for several years and after the movie, it was given to a church charity to auction off. The movie was a box office success, earning $72.1 million off of an $18 million budget and would spawn 1 official sequel and 1 unofficial sequel.
Yet another time where I have to disagree with the critics because I thought that this was a pretty funny movie. The acting was good, with Burt Reynolds (J.J.) and Dom DeLuise (Victor) making for a great comedy team, as did Dean Martin (Jamie) and Sammy Davis Jr. (Morris), while all of the other actors were pretty good as well. I personally thought that Roger Moore’s character of Seymour acting like Roger Moore as James Bond was really funny, especially all of the subtle nods to James Bond that were in the movie, such as the Aston Martin that he is driving as well as the rotating cast of girls he has in the car with him. The main plot of the movie was honestly a little boring, with the idea of a coast to coast race being a little too straight forward. Adding the various bits of comedy to it definitely made it more entertaining in my opinion. The comedy in the movie kind of went the gauntlet of styles. Most of it was play on words while they also had situational, like Jill and Marcie showing cleavage to get out of speeding tickets until they get pulled over by a female officer, and slap stick, which Dom Deluise usually got the brunt of. One of those classic 80’s comedies that sometimes gets overlooked but is worth watching if you get the chance.
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5