The Cannonball Run (1981)

cannonballrun_1Starring Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Dom DeLuise, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Jack Elam, Adrienne Barbeau, Terry Bradshaw, Jackie Chan, Michael Hui, Bert Convy, Jamie Farr

Directed by Hal Needham

Expectations: Moderate.

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I haven’t seen The Cannonball Run since I was about five or six years old, and I remember it being hilarious. As you might imagine, a person’s sense of humor changes a bit after 25 or so years, so I unfortunately can’t list The Cannonball Run as a film that holds up very well. On top of that, I’m watching the film as part of my Jackie Chan series, which is not the best way to approach this film AT ALL. Jackie probably has less than five minutes total screentime throughout the film, and every one of his short appearances is heralded with the most stereotypical Asian music imaginable. He’s also supposed to be Japanese in the film, even though Chan and his co-driver Michael Hui (also a huge star in Hong Kong at the time) clearly speak their native Chinese throughout. Sigh.

But I should try to focus on the bulk of The Cannonball Run instead of Jackie’s glorified, dumb cameo. The story here is as loose as the pants that Jared from Subway used to wear. There’s a cross-country race called the Cannonball Run, and all kinds of drivers show up to take part in it. That’s it. I don’t recall there being a prize to be had (other than side bets and bragging rights), and there’s no actual plot running alongside the race. The Cannonball Run is just that, a wacky race across country. Also the race doesn’t really matter, it’s just a means to put crazy characters into crazy situations along the way. There’s never any tension or sense of time as the race is on; it’s all freewheelin’ fun!

cannonballrun_2Unless you’re me, in which case “the freewheelin’ fun” actually means something that straddles the line between kinda boring and kinda amusing. There were definite highlights in the comedy, namely Roger Moore as Roger Moore, complete with a James Bond gadget-car and a theme song just a few notes off from the real deal. His first scene with his mother is superb, I just wish the rest of the film could keep up this level of high-quality comedy writing.

What doesn’t work is most of the rest of the movie, but as I’ve said many times before: it doesn’t really matter. The film is still largely entertaining and fast-moving despite its flaws. If nothing else, it’s fun just to see all the stars together in one movie. And even if Jackie is given the short end of the stick, he does get to flash a few good kicks towards the end during a brawl that involves almost the entire cast of the film. And any film that has the nerve to throw a bucket full of stars into a large-scale comedic brawl deserves to be judged on its level and not whatever level you wanted it to be on. I still think it could have been a lot better, but I rolled with it.

Being a Hal Needham film, there’s also a bunch of great stunts. I love a good “car through the side of a building” gag, and this movie has two! But there’s a lot more than that, with things like a car jumping into a swimming pool and a truck jumping over a moving train. Old fashioned stunts will always amaze and impress, and they help The Cannonball Run from getting too stagnant and boring.

By the film’s end, it’s clear that even if we only enjoyed small parts of the film the cast and crew enjoyed every second of the filmmaking process. Over the credits, a series of funny outtakes play, with the actors flubbing lines and doing the ol’ “laughing instead of saying the line” routine (which, of course gets everyone else laughing too). The Cannonball Run is the first film of Jackie Chan’s to feature outtakes, and yes, this is where he picked up the practice that would continue in his Hong Kong films to this day. It’s one of the hallmarks of a Jackie Chan movie, and for adding this to the Chan repertoire The Cannonball Run was a worthy diversion in his blooming career. If he never did this shitty part we might never have seen a single outtake!

Next up in this chronological journey through the films of Jackie Chan: Jackie heads back to Hong Kong for his third outing in the director’s chair, 1982’s Dragon Lord! See ya then!

2 comments to The Cannonball Run (1981)

  • Dan

    …great read Will! I watched this quite recently, having not seen it for years. It’s so bloody disjointed yet while the sequel is similarly all over the place (and pretty much the same movie played out again – equation Jaws – James Bond = Cannonball Run II) I do prefer the sequel over this one.

    Both films do, however, feature the color-changing Lamborghini and two drop-dead gorgeous women driving said car – surely one of the greatest creations in movie history!

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