There are a lot of movies that I remember fondly from my childhood. Most I’ve continued to enjoy as I grew older, and hope to share with my child as he grows older. But there are some the disappear into the ether, existing only in memory until someone brings them up in conversation or you catch them on cable (something that barely existed when I was little). THE CANNONBALL RUN, released in 1981, is one such movie. Released when I was 2, I remember watching it with my parents (probably my Dad) at some point during my younger days and enjoying it quite a bit. Now that I’ve been able to watch it again, with a decidedly different lens, the picture doesn’t have quite the same gleam.
THE CANNONBALL RUN is actually based on a true event, known as the Cannonball, which was a race across the United States in protest of the (then national) speed limit of 55 mph (miles per hour). Supposedly the story is based on some real stories that emerged out of that race. What we witness, however, is something over the top and a bit strange. The movie opens with a long credit sequence where we see a Lamborghini in a long car chase with the highway patrol. It’s a funny sequence, but about as deep as the movie ever gets.
The script is basically non-existent. The story (loosely) follows J.J. McClure, played by Burt Reynolds, and his best friend Victor Prinzim (Dom DeLuise). They are getting ready for the Cannonball and trying to decide what type of car to use to win the race. As they go through a series of “funny” experiences together in car, in a plane, and finally in a boat, they realize that their answer lies in an ambulance. They can go across the country without having to deal with the police. Not a story that would necessarily work in today’s world, probably, but not a bad idea. Might be some promise here.
But sadly the story devolves into film industry inside-jokes and a series of one-liners delivered by an albeit stellar cast. There are positives here. The cast is phenomenal, despite the fact that they give staggeringly poor performances. You’ll recognize essentially everyone who enters the race, from Reynolds and DeLuise to Sammy Davis Jr. and a boozy Dean Martin, Terry Bradshaw, Jamie Farr, Peter Fonda, and even Jackie Chan in his first American film. One of the brightest moments is from the aging Jack Elam as Doctor Nikolas Van Helsing. He’s the only doctor JJ and Victor could find to ride across the country in their ambulance, and he provides some creepy but wonderful moments.
I’ve actually taken several days to write this review, hoping that I was initially just disappointed and that it would wear off. I know this is considered a classic. My review might even anger someone. But even though this movie was considered a great success when it was released, the things it stands for (commercialism, cash grab movies with pretty cars, stunts and no story) are the “hate” part of my love/hate relationship with Hollywood. Additionally, the film suffers from a HUGE flaw – the actors all think they’re in something that is amazing and hilarious and it shows. They’re smuggly waiting for everyone to get the joke.
If you’re a fan you should check out the blu-ray, the video is very nice. Otherwise, you are better off with your memories of this film.
Video: (1080p, 1.78:1 Widescreen) Very nice transfer from a great print of the film. This one feels like it was just shot and the colors pop off of the screen.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) The audio is a nice mix which keeps within a great range on your television or stereo. The movie is dialogue heavy despite the script, but you can hear every one-liner as the film progresses.
Audio Commentary with Director Hal Needham and Producer Al Ruddy: The director and producer watch the movie together and share some of their favorite stories from the making of the film. They’re both pretty rough voices and sometimes hard to understand. This commentary is good for anyone who just loves the film and wants to know trivia, but isn’t necessary for the rest of us.