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Featured Blu-ray Review: The Cannonball Run

November 6th, 2011

The Cannonball Run - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

When it comes to recommending movies, there are high quality films that win awards and will be remembered for years as a high water mark of cinema history. Then there are guilty pleasures. These are films that you know are going for cheaper entertainment. The Cannonball Run is a guilty pleasure. I really liked this film when I saw it for the first time after it came out on the home market, but it has been about two decades since I've seen the movie. I'm hoping I can I still enjoy the film as a guilty pleasure. I doubt I will suddenly think the film is Oscar-worthy, but I'm a little worried after watching the film for the first time since I was a teenager, I'll wonder what the hell I was thinking back then.

The Movie

The plot... huh. There really isn't a plot so much as a setup. The Cannonball Run is about a cross-country road race in which several teams try to win. That's really it for the plot. For the first part of the movie, we are introduced to the various teams, the cars they are driving and, in some cases, the disguises they will be using. Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise drive a van disguised as an ambulance. Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. drive a Ferrari while dressed as priests. ("God is our co-pilot." is how Sammy describes it.) Jackie Chan and Michael Hui play Japan's greatest racer and computer expert respectively, who are driving a rocket-power computerized Subaru. Roger Moore is the heir to a girdle company, who thinks he's a spy and he has a tricked-out Aston Martin DB5 to back up his delusion. Jamie Farr is an oil sheikh driving a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow. Terry Bradshaw and Mel Tillis drive a NASCAR disguised to look street legal. Bert Convy plays a bored executive driving the whole way on a motorcycle because he's bored. He and his co-pilot, Warren Berlinger, are dressed up as a newlywed couple. Adrienne Barbeau and Tara Buckman drive a Lamborghini Countach, who use their cleavage to get out of tickets.

There are also dozens of other racers, but that's the main ones. As we watch the race, which doesn't begin til over 30 minutes into the movie, we mostly pay attention to the rivalry between Burt Reynolds & Dom DeLuise and Dean Martin & Sammy Davis, Jr.. Meanwhile, George Furth plays a politician trying to stop the race, with the help of a photographer, Farrah Fawcett, although she's quickly kidnapped by Burt and Dom. (They need a female patient, just in case the cops stop them.)

This film is less a film than an excuse for many people who were very famous at the time to make a movie together. This is hardly a unique film in that regard, as It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World was essentially the same film from the 1960s. The entertainment value of such films depends heavily on how many of the film's stars you recognize and how many of the inside jokes are familiar enough to you. In this regard, this film has suffered in the 30 years since it was made and the 20-odd years since I've seen it. It still has a goofy sensibility to it that is amusing, most of the time. It is so far over-the-top, both in terms of the plot and the acting. (More than a few actors are a little on the hammy side.) You either go with it or you will hate this movie.

So what's my opinion? It's still a guilty pleasure, but it's a little more guilty than I remember it. I need a little more than fast cars and stunt casting to really enjoy a film. Had the script focused on fewer race teams and developed the characters enough that I actually cared who won, then I would have been more enthusiastic in my recommendation.

The Extras

The only extra on the Blu-ray is an audio commentary track with Hal Needham, the director, and Albert Ruddy, the producer. They admit the script isn't great, talk about some of the stunts, casting, nearly getting sued because their Bond parody was a little too spot-on, etc. It does start to lose steam as the movie goes on and the dead spots become more frequent. As for the Blu-ray's technical presentation, there are some caveats that need to be said. The film didn't cost a huge amount to make, not counting salaries. (Burt Reynolds alone cost $5 million, which was a record at the time.) Also, the movie is now 30 years old. There are issues with grain, colors are faded, some DNR is here, black levels can be weak. At the best of times, the film looks good, for a catalogue title, but it never truly shines. The audio is more lackluster than I was expecting. It's almost always front and center. There is very little activity in the surround sound speakers or the bass. On the other hand, it does look better than the DVD and the Blu-ray only costs $11.

The Verdict

I'm not alone in calling The Cannonball Run a guilty pleasure and I think everyone should have films they can mindlessly enjoy. However, guilty pleasures are much more subjective than traditionally high quality films. If you've never seen the film, but like car chase movies, give it a rental. If you are a fan, the Blu-ray only costs $11 and that's a hard price to beat.

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