The Cannonball Run 1 and 2 1981, 1984 ***

cannonball

Of course, purists don’t count 1989’s Speed Zone as part of the franchise; only the two Hal Needham films really belong to the world of the cannonballer. Following on from the mid 1970’s cross-country car-chase boom that included Cannonball, Carquake, Grand Theft Auto, The Gumball Rally and more, The Cannonball Run films essentially lifted Burt Reynolds and his good ol’ boy character from the Smokey and the Bandit films and put him amongst a packed, all-star cast for various motorised shenanigans. There’s actually precious little in the way of stunts or action, and the key members of the cast don’t have much to do; Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr waltz around the edges looking frail and unenthused, and the mugging comedy is more likely to come from old-stagers like Charles Nelson Reilly or Jack Elam as it was from top-billed Roger Moore or Frank Sinatra. The latter’s appearance in Cannonball Run II, which features no actual interaction with cast members and appears to have been shot in a different time-zone, is something of a low-point, and the way the cameos are shoe-horned into both films disrupts any narrative tension. But the Cannonball Run films are more interesting in 2019 as a repository of ancient gags and comic turns, from Don Knotts and Tim Conway to Jim Nabors and Doug McClure, The dated jokes about middle-Eastern politics via Jamie Farr’s The Sheik is particularly groan-worthy, but the unfunny antics of Dom DeLuise are a crash-crash all by themselves; the twist is that his rapport with Reynolds, with both seeming to be in a state of severe intoxication, features extensively in the credits/bloopers at the end of the film, and generates more laughs than the scripted material could in a million years.

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