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Friday, January 20, 2012

The Cannonball Run Blu-ray Review

On the 30th anniversary of the theatrical release comes The Cannonball Run on Blu-ray DiscFeaturing an all-star cast including Academy Award nominee Burt Reynolds (Boogie Nights), Roger Moore (The Spy Who Loved Me), Emmy nominee Farrah Fawcett (The Burning Bed), Dom DeLuise (History of the World: Part 1), Jackie Chan (The Tuxedo), Dean Martin (Airport) and Sammy Davis, Jr. (Ocean’s Eleven), this wild action-comedy was inspired by an actual event: The Cannonball Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, an anything goes, all-stops-out, and thoroughly illegal, competition that has grown to legendary proportions.


Film (4 out of 5 stars) 

There’s some movies that provide a litmus test for comedy that can help you determine some-one’s taste in funny movies.  My personal test selections rotate around the Pink Panther movies, Coming to America, Harlem Nights, Anchorman, and some 80s Burt Reynolds movies like Smokey and the Bandit and this movie – Cannonball Run.  All of these movies seem to divide audiences into people who either love them or hate them with little ground in between. If you don’t appreciate this movie, I will keep my eye on you.  In this case, The Cannonball Run is more of a mobile party movie on wheels than a traditional movie, with a dream cast that’s clearly having the time of their lives while making a ton of money.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a plot per se, but character development isn’t at the forefront of the filmmakers checklist.  The movie is based on an actual race called the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dashthat was started by Brock Yates who was a writer for “Car and Driver.”  The race grew in popularity and for the 1979 race, Yates, his wife, and a doctor joined up with director Hal Needham to race an ambulance across the country which ended up inspiring this movie.  Despite all the modifications made to the ambulance ( a HEMI engine that made it go up to 145 mph and four gas filler holes so the 90 gallon gas tank could be filled quickly), the transmission blew out fifty miles from the finish line.  While Yates and Needham didn’t win, the experience at least led to this movie which included the actual ambulance that they used for the race.
With the race as the basis for this movie, all it needed was enough stars to make it a must see movie and Needham turned to his friends and former stars Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise to anchor the film.  From that point on, they had their pick of stars wanting to join and Roger Moore, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Farrah Fawcett,  Jamie Farr, Peter Fonda, Jack Elam, and more boarded the film.  Don Rickles was originally supposed to play the part that Sammy Davis Jr. played but dropped out because he wanted more money and better star billing.
The movie opens with a bunch of racers all meeting in Connecticut to qualify for The Cannonball Run which is a cross country race where the winner will be the driver to cross the finish line with the lowest time.  There are no rules on how the racers should get there so they are free to do what they want to get across the finish line.   For J.J. McClure (Burt Reynolds) and Victor Pinzim (Dom DeLuise) their plan is to drive an ambulance since they don’t think it would get pulled over.  To add more believability to their ruse, they’ve enlisted Doctor Nikalas Van Helsing who appears to be a doctor of questionable skill at the last minute.  The doctor is so creepy and J.J. tells Victor to never tell him where he found the doctor.  Also complicating their efforts is Victor’s alternate persona known as Captain Chaos who appears in times of need.  J.J. can’t stand that side of Victor and frequently warns Victor to keep him away.
The other racers include Jami Blake (Dean Martin) and Morris Fenderbaum (Sammy Davis Jr.) who are dressed up as catholic priests while driving a red Ferrari 308 GTS,  Seymour Goldfarb Jr. (Roger Moore) who is the ”heir to the Goldfarb Girdles fortune,” but insists that he is in fact Roger Moore.  With many touches like the fact he drives a gadget filled Aston Martin DBV (which actually only appeared in the Connery Bond films up to that point), a Walther PPK, and the fact that the Bond musical cues accompany his scenes (this movie was almost sued by the Bond producers), and it’s easy for people to believe him.  There’s also two hot babes in a Lamborghini (Adreinne Barbeau and Tara Buckman), two gold ol’ boys (Terry Bradshaw and Mel Tillis), Jamie Farr as a wealthy sheik, and two Japanese racers (Jackie Chan and Michael Hui) who are racing a high tech Subaru that has a computer and home entertainment package installed along with a rocket powered engine.
Waiting a the starting line, is a Mr. Arthur J. Foyt (George Furth), who is a representative of the Safety Enforcement Unit who is determined to stop the race and have all of the racers arrested.  Assisting him is a young environmentalist named Pamela Glover (Farrah Fawcett) who doesn’t realize what a tool Foyt really is.  Once the race starts, Foyt gets himself in a car accident and Pamela (who believes that J.J. and Victor are real ambulance drivers) tries to convince them to help Foyt, but the pair kidnap her instead and nickname her Beauty.  They had been looking for someone to be their “patient” just in case they were stopped by the police, and she fit the bill perfectly.
As the race goes on, we witness every racer evading the law in whatever way they can.  For J.J. an Victor it’s bluffing the police into believing they are transporting a patient, the others use a variety of ways including using their sex appeal and flirting with the police and using night vision to sneak away.  The biggest competition between the racers is between the ambulance crew and the Ferrari crew dressed as priests.  En route to California, Fenderbaum and Blake convince Victor to pull over to receive their blessing.  While Blake goes about giving his blessing and being disturbed by the crazy doctor, Fenderbaum slashes one of the ambulance’s rear tires.  J.J. later gets even with them, by convincing a cop that the two priests are actually sex perverts who just traumatized their patient.
Foyt meanwhile, has set up a roadblock that catches many of the racers, while the remaining racers find themselves waiting at a dusty roadside market for a construction crew to clear the road ahead of them and get out of their way. When the racers start getting harassed by a biker gang led by Peter Fonda, they all pitch in for a free-for-all brawl where Jackie Chan gets to show off his moves.  By the end of the fight, the road is open and all of the teams race for their cars to complete the race.   Having lost first place, J.J. reluctantly requests the appearance of Captain Chaos so they can catch up.  It’s a foot race to the finish line so it will all be up to Captain Chaos to win the race.
This is a silly movie that doesn’t take itself seriously at all which is a nice change of pace at times.  The movie is just a lot of fun to watch, especially the scenes with Reynolds, DeLuise, Martin, and Davis, Jr which are full of great chemistry that benefits from the long years of friendship between Reynolds and DeLuise and Martin with Davis. Jr.. Their scene together where they insult each other and then debate if their insults are acceptable or not (“he can say that”) is just pure joy to watch.  It’s obvious how much fun this movie was to make since Frank Sinatra joined the sequel after hearing some wild stories about making it from Martin and Davis Jr.
There’s so many funny bits in this movie that still crack me up like the crazy doctor who has a thing for anesthetizing himself and others, Jackie Chan trying to watch porn while he’s driving, the running gag of the hot women avoiding being arrested by unzipping their skin-tight jumpsuits throughout the movie until it fails when a female police officer pulls them over, and much more.  Not to mention, seeing Roger Moore poke fun at his own image is also a lot of  fun to watch. Moore gamely plays along with the jokes about himself and tweaks his role as James Bond playfully.  As a side note, Eon Productions which owns the Bond franchise added new clauses in his future contracts to prevent him from doing a role that close to Bond again.  This movie is a ton of fun to watch and I still love it!

Video (4 out of 5 stars) 

This 1080p (1.78:1) transfer looks better on Blu-ray than it has on any other release I’ve seen.  There’s some nice detail present that gives us a nice look at the lovely ladies and the textures are nicely defined as well as seen by the spandex clad female racers.  Colors are varied and bright and really pop off of the screen more than they did in the DVD release.  Black levels are acceptable but not as inky as I would have liked and flesh tones tend to be on the warm side but still look good.  There is some noise seen during the night scenes and some scratches that pop up every once in awhile, but overall I was happy with this transfer.

Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

The Cannonball Run’s DTS-HD 5.1 mix is also comes off better than the earlier DVD but it shows it’s age.  Dialogue is clear and front channel driven, but the rear channels don’t get as much action.  The cars’ engines sound good as do the crowds, but there isn’t really any fancy cross-panning across the channels which is a shame since this movie could have benefited if some directionality had been done.  Since this is more of a comedy than a racing movie, none of these issues really affect the movie too badly, but I wish it had turned out stronger than it did.

Special Features (2 out of 5 stars) 

This disc has a great commentary but nothing else which is really disappointing and will end up hurting the final score.
  • Audio Commentary – Director Hall Needham and producer Albert S. Ruddy talk about making the movie, gathering the cast, and the challenges they faced in making the film.  There’s some good information here such as their enticement of Burt Reynolds to the movie by offering him a then unheard of five million dollars to be in it, and other tidbits like how they were able to land a plane in the middle of a town, and more.  This is a fun listen, with both men praising the cast and the movie.  They also like each other and this conversation has the feel of listening to two old friends talking.

Final Thoughts (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

This is a fun romp that won’t be for everyone, but I love it.  Like Hal Needham’s other movies, this movie has the bloopers that play along with the end credits which are hilarious and can be found below if you are interested.  If you haven’t seen this movie yet, and you’re in the mood for something fun and light, then this is the perfect movie for you.
Order your copy today!

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