THE CANNONBALL RUN
"We could try a black Trans Am. Naw, that's been done."
THE INSIDE TRACK
Burt became the highest paid actor in cinema history up to that point for this movie, making $5M for four weeks work, and you know what? It was worth every cent. "The Cannonball Run" is a classic. "Smokey and the Bandit" may have created the genre, but Cannonball is the one with the cult following. Mention this movie at a party, and you'll always get an affectionate nod from someone.
Cannonball is based on a real race, the "Cannonball Sea to Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash", which Needham and screenwriter Brock Yates actually participated in. And yes, they drove an ambulance. They didn't win, but they did come up with a movie idea.
"The Cannonball Run" opened in June of 1981 against such heavy hitters as "Raiders of the Lost Ark", the James Bond flick "For Your Eyes Only" (more on THAT later), and "Superman II", and stayed around for most of the summer, eventually grossing more than $80M at the US box office. At the time, this was the stuff of a major hit. It was also the time of the drive-in movie's last gasp, and Cannonball was the last Reynolds/Needham movie to break through the box office stratosphere. It was "Stroker Ace" and "Cannonball Run II" from there- which ended America's love affair with drive-in fast car movies- and, more or less, Burt's tenure as a box office titan. As for Needham, he directed both those movies as well as "Megaforce" and "RAD". Neither of those flicks were smashes at the time, but both have pretty consistent cult followings today .
The actual race continues to this day, albeit in somewhat diluted form ( a European version happened in 2001 and was aired in the UK as a reality show), and rumors of a remake surfaced in 2000 (starring Hugh Grant????), There were also the sequels, "Cannonball Run II", and "Speed Zone", both of which were box office disapointments (the only character to be in all three was Jamie Farr's Sheik), but the original "Cannonball Run" endures as THE classic kick at the Cannonball can, and a cult favorite.
I first saw "The Cannonball Run" when I was 12 years old. Unlike most films I saw at that age, I loved it then, and I love it now. Maybe it's nostalgia. Maybe it's that I have no taste (my girlfriend's opinion). But I can still put this movie on and enjoy it from start to finish. It's not a great film, of course. Character development? Non existent. Tension? There is none. Plot? Somewhat lacking. It's a piffle with a bunch of celebrities acting silly and having a great time snapping off one liners, being obscenely politically incorrect, and driving cool cars. This sure isn't art, but it sure is tons of fun, and when that opening theme song kicks in with such energy- forget it, I'm gone.
This is one of those movies where everyone making it looks to have been having a great time, and unlike most films of that ilk (the original "Oceans 11", anyone?) it transfers to the screen. And, it's actually satirical, albeit mostly by playing things up to an absurd degree. Most Reynolds/ Needham movies seem to have no idea of the world outside their own redneck never-never land. "Cannonball" is, silly as this concept might seen, and perhaps by default, smart parody. To an SCTV sort of degree. Roger Moore makes great hay of his James Bond image. Dean and Sammy take the "Rat Pack" to absurd heights. Dom's Captain Chaos makes you wonder what Clark Kent did on his days off. Jackie Chan does his martial arts shtick for no other reason than to do his shtick. Even Peter Fonda stops in to do a piss take on his biker movies. And yes, I realize most of these targets of humor are more than 20 years old. If you're 21, I admit this may be behind the times for you.
So let's get down to brass tacks, You know better than I do whether you'll like a film like "The Cannonball Run" and if you like this genre, and if you're on this website, you probably do, so I hafta tell ya, this is the best the lot.
THOUGHTS WHILE WATCHING /TRIVIA
Pierce Brosnan's contract for the James Bond films stipulated that he could not wear a tuxedo in any other movies during his run as 007. No tux for Thomas Crown, etc. When Needham went to meet the Bond producers about the possibility of directing a Bond flick, the first thing they said was "Perhaps we should think about suing you for Cannonball". You do the math.
At the end of the movie, when all the Cannonballers are sipping champagne (and pouring it over each other's heads) Roger Moore says "Maybe next year, we'll do this again". The camera cuts, pulls to a wide shot, and Roger has disappeared from the group. Hey, he really IS a secret agent!
Farrah Fawcett went from here to a career as the queen of TV movies. This was her 'comeback' after jumping from "Charlie's Angels". Fellow angel Jacqueline Smith was originally hired to play Burt's love interest in "Cannonball Run II", but dropped out when she found out how crazy a Reynolds/Needham set could be. She was replaced by Shirley MacLaine.
Golden Harvest, the company that financed Cannonball, was best known at the time as a producer of Chinese martial arts films and most of their business was done with foreign audiences. To this day, if you go into a Chinese video store, you'll find both Cannonball films with Jackie Chan as the primary focus of the DVD cover. Even the Spanish poster for "Cannonball Run", has Jackie jumping out where the speed limit sign is (and credited after Farrah, but before Dom.)
Jackie made the poster for the sequel, being strangled by Richard Kiel in good company: Frank Sinatra. Weird. Jackie only appeared in the sequel because he was contractually obligated. Today, he's the only person to have appeared in either of the Cannonball movies to have any box office clout what so ever.
Peter Fonda, Bianca Jagger, Molly Picon, Valarie Perrine, Jimmy The Greek, Fred Smith, Johnny Yune. Needham's cameo this time is as the ambulance driver carrying Burt and Dom from their altercation with a motor boat. He also pops up at the end of the blooper credits to say "Cut it". Brock Yates, who wrote the screenplay, appears as the guy who makes a speech before the race officially starts ("Some of these guys DID break the speed limit").
Available from HBO Home Video in wide screen 16x9. Extras are cast and crew bios and, most importantly, a funny and informative commentary track with Needham and producer Albert S. Ruddy. At the end of it, Needham says "We gotta do another Cannonball", to which Ruddy replies "We will". Never happened, unfortunately.
Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Dom DeLuise, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Farr, Terry Bradshaw, Mel Tillis, Jackie Chan, Michael Hui, Jack Elam, George Furth, Burt Convy, Warren Berlinger, Tara Buckman.