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The Cannonball Run(1981)
A wild, illegal, and popular cross-country car race is organized, and the eccentric entrants will do anything to win, including low-down, dirty tricks.
For more about The Cannonball Run and the The Cannonball Run Blu-ray release, see the The Cannonball Run Blu-ray Review published by Brian Orndorf on November 8, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Director: Hal Needham
Writer: Brock Yates
Starring: Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Dom DeLuise, Dean Martin, Jack Elam
» See full cast & crew
The Cannonball Run Blu-ray Review
A comedy that can't stop pumping its brakes
Reviewed by Brian Orndorf, November 8, 2011
Why certain movies become smash hits at the box office while others die a horrible, embarrassing death is a show business mystery that will never be solved. Some say relentless marketing efforts are required, while others reinforce the importance of a strong release date. In the case of "The Cannonball Run," it's obviously star power that urged hordes of ticket buyers into theaters during the summer of 1981. At least I hope it was star power. With all due respect to cult admirers of the picture, "The Cannonball Run" is a wearisome, nonsensical production rescued by its marquee value. It's difficult to grow upset with the feature when it's continuously shifting perspective, slapping a fresh face on the screen every two minutes to lead attention away from the substandard direction, questionable continuity, and general slack momentum of the piece. Take it as pure escapism executed by giddy performers, and it's passable entertainment. Otherwise, it's a rough cross-country ride of indulgence and automobile mayhem, perhaps best suited for a Saturday morning cartoon.
The Cannonball Run is a renowned but unsanctioned car race across America, from Connecticut to California, attracting numerous contestants obsessed with building a reputation as the finest driver in the country. Joining the pursuit for this round are pals J.J. (Burt Reynolds) and Victor (Dom DeLuise), who've picked up nature photographer Pamela (Farrah Fawcett) along the way; Seymour Goldfarb, Jr. (Roger Moore), who races as screen icon Roger Moore; degenerate gamblers Jamie (Dean Martin) and Morris (Sammy Davis Jr.), joining the contest disguised as priests; spandex-clad sex bombs Marcie (Adrienne Barbeau) and Jill (Tara Buckman), who apply their physical assets to bewitch local cops; rednecks Terry (Terry Bradshaw) and Mel (Mel Tillis); The Sheik (Jamie Farr), looking to win for the glory of Allah; two Japanese drivers (Jackie Chan and Michael Hui) who utilize a computerized car to gain their advantage; and millionaire businessman Bradford (Bert Convy), attempting to cross the country while performing a wheelie on a motorcycle. While the cars are unstoppable and the competition intense, the racers must contend with outside interferences, road warrior disasters, and various pranks to make it to the west coast in one piece.
The genesis of "The Cannonball Run" makes perfect sense. Director Hal Needham and star Burt Reynolds slayed box office expectations in 1977 with "Smokey and the Bandit," a high-flying creation that merged southern fried comedy with crunchy car stunts, solidifying the filmmaker (and longtime stuntman) as a go-to guy for such chaotic, engine-revving enterprises. After a "Smokey" sequel found its way to screen success in 1980, a new plan was chosen by the good old boys to squeeze a few more coins out of the crash-and-giggle formula, opening up the scope of the wacky interstate challenge to include an enviable roster of famous faces, therefore guaranteeing a hit.
"The Cannonball Run" is a film driven entirely by personality. There's really no plot, just a faint outline of race objectives and highway rules, handled by Needham as more of a nuisance than a critical set of narrative parameters to work within. The run of "Run" is actually more of an afterthought, only truly commencing halfway through the picture -- a startling revelation for first-time viewers expecting a rowdy 90-minute dissection of competition particulars and automobile endurance. Needham and screenwriter Brock Yates are drawn more to the colorful community of race nuts than any rigid state-hopping exploration of behind-the-wheel skill. It's a strange focal point, yet "The Cannonball Run" is meant to tickle the funny bone, not thrill car enthusiasts. The reality of the fluffed tone is surprisingly difficult to accept, due in great part to Needham and his inability to say no to his mischievous ensemble.
Gathering an eclectic group of actors to portray all manner of obsessive Cannonball competitors, Needham doesn't provide much directorial control, permitting the talent to sloppily riff and mug their way around scenes, trying to nail pitches of broadly comic energy that might translate to laughs. Reynolds and DeLuise are unrelenting in their silly behavior, giggling and slapping through their screentime together. DeLuise even has a superhero alter ego to monkey with in Captain Chaos, an obese costumed avenger personality Victor employs when backed into a corner by his enemies. Why? No idea. Apparently, a movie about a car race with genuine car racing in it was deemed distasteful early on in the creative design of the picture. Needham would rather capture his cast blindly fooling around (yes, there's even a gag involving a squirting seltzer bottle) than generate a propulsive ambiance of lead-footed rivalry, turning the feature into an aggressive television variety show without commercial breaks. I'm glad the cast is having a ball here, flirting and fighting in what amounts to strident sketches of personal interaction, but the hilarity isn't infectious.
Also surprising about "The Cannonball Run" is how slapdash it looks. As previously mentioned, continuity struggles throughout, and Needham show difficulty organizing spatial relationships, rendering a few of the visual jokes more baffling than amusing. Low-tech production processes also weigh the film down, offering rainy scenes evidently manufactured with a thumb-on-garden hose treatment, while an early sequence with J.J. and Victor sputtering around the clouds inside an airplane is clearly shot parked on a runway, with the background exposed. Perhaps Needham was distracted by all the extreme stunt work found the picture, which is pleasingly destructive and hectic. There's little motivation for the annihilation of businesses and automobiles found throughout the effort, but base sensibilities are tenderly cared for, presenting the viewer with a wide range of smash-em-ups to hold attention.
Needham also knows a thing or two about PG-rated sexuality, parading Barbeau and Buckman around in skintight spandex, while Fawcett remains braless for the duration of the picture, her clothes and set lighting carefully arranged for maximum displays of nippleage. Of course, eventual references to gang rape and an in-dash television viewing of pornography keep this one away from family entertainment. Once again, Needham screws up a good thing.
The Cannonball Run Blu-ray, Video Quality
The AVC encoded image (1.78.1 aspect ratio) presentation on "The Cannonball Run" keeps a brightly lit and colorful motion picture comfortably alert. Some mild DNR appears to have applied, giving off a slight waxy appearance to the cast, especially Reynolds, who looks unnaturally smooth at times. Frame details remain in good standing despite softness, with automobiles revealing their wear and tear in full, while costuming shows a passable amount of texture -- see-through and tight outfits offer their intended visual appeal. Colors are the big sell here, popping through different race environments with minimal fade. The spandex outfits on Barbeau and Buckman are particularly vivid (reds and purples leap off the screen), while various paint jobs on the cars create appealing individuality. Skintones look a little too pink at times, but stay fresh. Shadow detail is comfortable, permitting an acceptable look at evening encounters and fabric textures. Print damage is detected, with scratches and blotches popping up from time to time.
The Cannonball Run Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA sound mix works the limited scope of a 1981 feature film comfortably, but never dynamically. It's a louder track concerned with broad comedy and roaring engines, creating a controlled chaos that's never shrill or otherwise unpleasant. Dialogue exchanges are kept primarily frontal, doing a fine job clarifying cartoon accents and overlapping dialogue. Voices sound full and direct, with nothing stepped on as the action heats up. There's limited dimension for the group sequences, but nothing bold. Automobile adventures carry a rowdier edge, but very limited low-end activity to articulate crashes and explosions. Directional activity isn't present, with the car wars handed a clotted kick. Scoring and soundtrack cuts are less robust, but they fit into the flow of the feature adequately. It's more of a blunt listening event than anything truly dimensional, yet the crude needs of the movie are met on this disc.
The Cannonball Run Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Cannonball Run Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If "The Cannonball Run" actually made an attempt to be serious, it would likely offend in a monumental manner, with pronounced racial stereotype humor used to create characters, while Davis Jr. and Martin spend most of the movie playing drunk drivers (oh, the hilarity), the latter red-faced performer perhaps engaging in a little method acting during the shoot. Mercifully, it's all silly business, but not particularly enchanting silly business, often overwhelmed by its efforts to come off casual and fun loving. Still, there are so many famous faces and tightly clothed feminine curves, it's amazingly easy to ignore how unfocused and unlikable the picture is. Perhaps Needham is a genius after all.
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The Cannonball Run Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Cannonball Run Blu-ray - August 10, 2011
HBO Home Entertainment has announced the Blu-ray release of the Burt Reynolds action comedy The Cannonball Run. The 1981 film, which also stars Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Dom DeLuise and Jackie Chan will street on November 8th with a SRP of $14.98.
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