The Cannonball Run (1981)

Now, I could be mistaken, but I do believe this has to be the very first time I’ve ever actually managed to sit down and watch a Cannonball movie all the way through. Not because I have anything against these movies and can’t stand them. No, it’s just that anytime one has been on TV in the past, give or take 25 years or so, I’ve always managed to miss at least a good one third of it, either catching it too late or changing the channel at some point because something more interesting was on. So in a way this feels like a little personal milestone.

When you get right down to it, in essence the Cannon Ball Run perfectly embodies the lowbrow spectrum of 80s comedies. For one thing, there’s really not a proper story being told here, instead what you have is a cross-country car race gimmick used as a framing device for showcasing a string of goofy vignettes (of fluctuating quality) that take place during the race by a group of racers of questionable and quirky nature. It’s not an overstatement to say this is very much a dumb movie. Even the jokes aren’t particularly great. To give an example of the type of humor you can find from this movie, there’s a particularly perplexing running gag about Sir Roger Moore playing a chap called Seymour Goldfarb, Jr. who, as one does, has an obsession about impersonating Sir Roger Moore. And it doesn’t end there, as you see, within the confines of the movie, being Roger Moore appears to be entirely synonymous with being James Bond, down to him entertaining several gorgeous ladies and driving an Aston Martin that is equipped with ejection seat and other such familiar  gadgets. There’s no apparent rhyme or reason for any of it, beyond lampooning the James Bond franchise in a very dry, dry manner, with very minimal usage of shaken, not stirred Martinis. By all accounts, this should not be very entertaining. Yet somehow I find myself quite liking it. It’s so dumb, it kinda starts to be good. It, like the movie as a whole, actually is rather endearing in a dumb, comedy romp way when you don’t stop to over-think it and just go with the flow.

The reason the movie works so well, despite all the odds stacked against it, is the fact that there isn’t any pretense at all of trying to tell a wider, cohesive story. The movie is here simply for the spectacle of  witnessing a bunch of famous people racing against time with fast, expensive cars while ignoring speed limits, with endless shenanigans. You’re suppose to just sit back, loosen your belt, put your legs on the table and and enjoy the ensuing chaos that follows, be it a buxom duo of female racers getting repeatedly pulled over for speeding, only for them to use sex appeal and increasingly lewd showing of cleavage as a tactic to be let off with just a warning until they encounter a state trooper who happens to be female or Jackie Chan playing a Japanese race driver equipped with a high tech Knight Rider type computerized car while hilariously (along with his co-pilot) still speaking all of his dialog in Chinese for unexplained reason. Say nothing of Dean Martian and Sammy Davis Jr. playing two old boozing gamblers dressed up in priest outfits while driving a Ferrari thinking God will be on their side or our protagonist heroes, Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise, driving an ambulance as their car of choice in the race. The idea here being that they’re pretending to be transporting a sick patient (Farrah Fawcett, whom they more or less kidnap from the road) in  attempt to avoid being arrested by cops when they ignore the speeding limits. And to spice things up, Dom DeLuise seems to have a split personality, which ultimately leads into him dressing up in red cape and turning into a sort of make belief superhero, Captain Chaos, with unexplained super powers, because why the hell not, that enable him to manhandle a group of bikers that harass the racers as sort of an epic climax to the movie, just before we get to the final stretch of the race where all the remaining participants converge to make it first into the finish line.

When it’s all said and done, it’s hard not to end up liking this movie. It’s far too silly and ridiculous to ever be boring and even though there’s barely a plot to go around, the movie contains an underlying trashy niche appeal to it that makes it rather delightful to watch. It’s never going to make my top ten list of movies but it’s mindless fun whenever you’re in the mood for it.

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