The Cannonball Run (1981)
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Dean Martin
In the early 80's Burt could do no wrong, his charm sold seats like no one else. Smokey and the Bandit Part I and Il had been big successes so it only seemed right that Hal Needham and Burt go for a hat trick, and why not just try for It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World. Given the success of Smokey, a slew of stars were happy to appear.
Taking a more subtitle the Good Old Boy approach was used as the heart of Reynold's character, grabbing a large portion of the once popular Rat Pack and dropping them in alongside some of the bigger names of cinema and TV who are game for a laugh. This was a party of a film and everyone is having a great time. Most importantly, the audience!
The Cannonball Run is based, loosely, on an illegal road race from the '70s from the east coast of the United States, to the west. A bunch of colourful characters enter and the film follows the crazy hijinks across the 3000+ miles. The characters include a drunk ex-race car driver, an addicted gambler, a Chinese hi-tech team, a pair of busty ladies with an eye for exotic motors, an oil-rich sheik and a millionaire who thinks he is Roger Moore. A slew of well-known faces turn up for cameos and smaller roles.
It's difficult to point out all the flaws, inherent sexism and lack of morals the fill The Cannonball Run as the whole thing is so much fun and in many ways, the flaws add to the charm. The script feels non-existent, and the whole production feels like a brief guide was worked out as to what they would be doing each day and most of the actors likely improvised every line. The only time a pen feels like it hit paper was the stunt team working out how to do some of the more hair-raising stunts safely. There is little point delving into story consistency and character development as they are not applicable here.
Burt Reynolds is just Burt Reynolds, everyone loves him, win! Moore is a perfectly realised joke, cashing in on the James Bond image, win! Dean Martin as an alcoholic womaniser, win! Sammy Davies Jr is a Lounge Lizard Con Man, win! And to round it all off Farrah Fawcett gives a memorable turn as a peace-loving photographer with a hint of crazy. Adrienne Barbeau and Tara Buckman stun and their assets are perfectly exploited for the target audience.
Outcome: A massive gamble, and a massive win!
Cannonball Run Il
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Dean Martin, Shirley MacLaine
Burt can actually do something wrong. If you took out everything that was funny and original from the first one then left the resulting carcass then you have Cannonball Run ll. A low point on everyone's career. And that is A LOT of careers.
It's quite an impressive manoeuvre to take something as light and fun as the original Cannonball Run, come up with some admittedly decent ideas and stunts, add some big names and still be completely devoid of fun. Of course, it seems the stars have only been coerced back for some handsome pay checks. Particularly so when you look further down the glamorous line up to find some very low rent names in an attempt to pad it out. Those that did not come back, for example, Roger Moore, obviously felt the joke had run its course.
There is, believe it or not, a plot here. The original had no shame in proving that it was merely a concept dreamed up on a drunken night, but this one shows evidence that someone has actually involved in writing something. It does not work and instead what was a welI edited collection of silly and funny sketches is now a messy narrative with terrible continuity.
Honestly, as a kid, I saw nothing wrong with this. I loved it, much like a cartoon. Purely because Burt was so cool. The Bandit, JJ, Hooper, and Shamus were all top of the pops with me can I just could not get enough of the guy.
Outcome: Cannonball Run Il is the lowest point of the series. Where the first one is organized chaos, this sequel is just chaotic rubbish.
Speed Zone! (1989)
aka Cannonball Run III
Director: Jim Drake
Cast: John Candy, Tim Matheson, Donna Dixon, Joe Flaherty
This is a little bit of a cheat. Orion tried to make a third Cannonball Run movie and Burt Reynolds turned it down. Instead, the rewrote the movie and called it Speed Zone! (released in the UK as Cannonball Fever.) It's not an official sequel and has been released under a number of titles since it's arrival. However, the similarities are not to be ignored. John Candy's character is introduced to the audience as he watches the first movie on TV. Confusingly, Jamie Farr then appears playing the rich Shiek.
The filmmakers do their best to borrow from the formula that made the first film successful. There is an opening Lamborghini chase. Celebrities queue up to fill the roles and cameos. John Candy takes over what is essentially the Burt Reynolds role. Or does Tim Matheson? At any rate, it's all there.
Whilst not being anywhere near as much fun as the original Cannonball Run, this one is much more entertaining than the second. It's been 5 years and the writers has come up with some fresh material. Whilst the cast is hardly brilliant it's still more than competent to land most of the gags.
Whilst some of the characters are somewhat wasted, the Smothers Brothers for example, there are a few winning combinations. Flaherty and Frewer are a have some great chemistry and are genuinely amusing. Their stosy is an uneven Midnight Run knock off. Matheson and Kuzyk are quite fun with Matheson showing some shades of the roguish Otter from Animal House. Candy and Dixon have the most screen time and provide stability for the film to bounce around. I always thought it would have been a spark a brilliance had Burt Reynolds played the Lee Van Cleef cameo.
However, the gloss just isn't there. It all feels like it has been filmed over a couple of rainy days in Canada. After a silly opening Lamborghini chase we are not greeted by some excellent cleavage, no, we get John Scheider who is instantly unlikable and disappears for the rest of the film. Sure that's a nice nod to The Dukes of Hazzard and perhaps Catherine Bach's role from the second movie.
The magic of the stunts from the first two movies is also lost. The speedier sequences are not so much race driving as sped up footage. There is a lack of memorable stunts here too, aside from a preposterous stone skipping Lamborgini and Brooke Shields segment involving a passenger plane driving down the highway, I struggle to think of any standout moments.
Outcome: Not terrible, a better effort, if a bit of a cheat.
Is that it?
Nope, following the first movie we got a pilot for a TV show following Mel Tillis and Terry Bradshaw characters. These two stock car racers zip across America trying to outwit and outrun a bill collector named Crusher. A one-off special aired as part of NBC's 1980-81 pilot season but failed to get picked up despite Mel Tillis and Terry Bradshaw returning. This would make a pretty exceptional extra on a Special Edition Blu Ray.
Obviously, The Cannonball Run takes its influence from Erwin Baker and the resulting illegal race that followed his exploits, however, it's core principles are from the ensemble chase movies that had come before. It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World and The Gumball Rally are probably the biggest influences, however, it was Cannonball! (or as it is sometimes known Carquake!) that really bears the closest resemblance. In Cannonball! we have a more adult approach with quite a bit more violence. However, this film is maybe a little closer to its predecessor Death Race 2000 when it comes to violence. It certainly isn't kiddy friendly, despite the who's who of Police Academy supporting characters.
The future Jack, the future!
Most recently there were whispers that Doug Liman is working on a finalised script. However, he is busy tooling a sequel to Edge of Tomorrow so there will either be a long wait or it'll have to find some love from someone else.
Best to worst:
1. The Cannonball Run
2. Speed Zone!
3. Cannonball Run Il