In my tween years, 1981’s The Cannonball Run was on HBO so much, you’d have thought Burt Reynolds and his buddy Dom DeLuise were running the company. For me, Burt and Dom could do no wrong, the movie was hilarious. Tomboy that I was, The Cannonball Run had it all—fast cars, cars exploding, racing, off color jokes and cool cameos. I mean this movie had one of the James Bonds, Farrah Fawcett, two members of the Rat Pack, Terry Bradshaw, Peter Fonda, Jackie Chan, Adrienne Barbeau and Burt Convy!
Watching The Cannonball Run thirty years after its initial release, I now realize what an utterly stupid movie it is. Based on a real, illegal coast-to-coast grand prix, The Cannonball Run involves a cast of wacky characters trying to complete the race while outwitting each other, avoiding the cops and steering clear of an anti-automotive ‘square’ determined to stop the entire practice.
Burt Reynolds, as J.J. McClure, is his usual smirking, smart aleck self, getting himself out of jams while romancing Farrah. However, this is an ensemble piece, so he shares plenty of time with the others in the cast including his sidekick Dom DeLuise, an omega-male who inexplicably turns into a caped superhero named Captain Chaos when he needs to drive faster. The two come up with idea of souping up an ambulance, the idea being that they can hit the lights and siren whenever the situation calls for it.
Most bizarre, Roger Moore plays Seymour Goldfarb, a rich kid who tells people he’s Roger Moore and uses James Bond gadgetry; honestly, I’m not sure who thought this would be funny either. Funniest, but also sad, is the pairing of Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., as a couple of Vegas players who pilot a Ferrari in priest costumes. Deano is noticeably feeble, and it’s rather amazing he lived fourteen more years. These two made me remember how much I enjoyed the movies and the music from the Rat Pack era.
Also along for the ride are: Marcie (Adrienne Barbeau) who relies on her charms and her cleavage to get her out of trouble with the law. Mel (Mel Tillis) and Terry (Terry Bradshaw), a pair of bumpkins with a car full of beer, and Jackie Chan (as a Japanese version of himself) in a completely computerized Subaru. They are joined by an Arab oil sheik (Jamie Farr) and motorcycling tycoon Brad Compton (Bert Convy). In order for McClure’s ambulance gambit to work, he needs a doctor and a patient. He ends up with proctologist Nickolas van Helsing (Jack Elam) and a sexy but airheaded treehugger, Pamela Glover (Fawcett).
Director Hal Needham got his start doing stunts for Burt Reynolds on Gunsmoke. He went on to direct his friend Smokey and the Bandit, Hooper, Smokey and the Bandit II, The Cannonball Run, The Cannonball Run II, and Stroker Ace. The guy knows how to direct a scene where one car is jumping over another. That’s basically The Cannonball Run, a car chase with a lot of hijinks.
The script isn’t important. It’s almost as if Burt Reynolds and a group of his friends got together for a party and decided to film it. If you’re looking for some foolish fun, The Cannonball Run just might be the ticket.
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer is a fair one. For a 1981 film, the image is quite good, though there are a few instances of DNR. The colors are fine, albeit a bit faded. Black levels aren’t great, but there is some grain which gives things a nice filmic quality.
The DTS-HD Master Audio lossless 5.1 surround is nothing to write home about. Most of the films action occurs in the front of the soundstage. There is sparse use of directional activity or channel panning, subwoofer engagement is nonexistent. The soundtrack replicates the film’s original sound about as accurately as can be expected.
English, French, and Latin subtitles are available.
The only special feature was brought over from the SD release:
- Audio Commentary from director Hal Needham and producer Albert S. Ruddy: In a commentary full of tidbits, Needham shares the fact that he raced in one of the Cannonballs in a souped up ambulance that could cruise at 145 miles per hour (the one used in the movie). His team, which included screenwriter Brock Yates, averaged more than 90 miles per hour from Connecticut to California before their transmission failed. They also reveal that $5 million of the $16 million dollar budget went to lure Burt Reynolds — who had already tired of making car movies. As the credits roll, Hal pats himself on the back for starting the blooper-reel craze still popular today.