The Cannonball Run (1981) starring Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Jack Elam, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Terry Bradshaw, Jamie Farr, Jackie Chan, Peter Fonda, George Furth directed by Hal Needham Movie Review

The Cannonball Run (1981)   2/52/52/52/52/5

Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise and Jack Elam in The Cannonball Run

The Whacky Races

Having watched "The Cannonball Run" many times since my childhood I have grown to wonder whether it really is a movie or just a bunch of actors and friends having a good time. Yes it has a story, based around the cross country road race to California but the race seems unimportant as director Hal Needham seems to focus on the comedy and characters with many a scene feeling like a set piece for yet another gag between either Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise or Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. to name just a few of the many stars who appear and appear to have a good time in the "The Cannonball Run". It's not terrible, daftly amusing but difficult to take seriously as a coherent movie.

Based upon a real life race "The Cannonball Run" follows the crazy antics of J.J. McClure (Burt Reynolds - The Dukes of Hazzard), Victor Prinzim aka Captain Chaos (Dom DeLuise - Blazing Saddles) and many others as they try to be the quickest across country, avoid police traps and win a fortune in the process.

Jackie Chan in The Cannonball Run

So the storyline, well let's be frank there isn't really one, or at least not one of any true significance. What we do get is introductions to the various men & women who plan to race in the Cannonball Run, their various exploits as they high tail it across country racing each other and the police as well as a busy body official who is upset by all the crazy car racing and tries his hardest to stop them. That's it and although each racing pairing have a sort of story to go with them such as Victor Prinzim having the alter ego Captain Chaos none of it makes the storyline in the least bit more important.

What this means is that "The Cannonball Run" is a movie all about comedy, crazy car antics, quirky characters and general comic chaos. It sort of works in a very daft way with many of the jokes feeling manufactured, designed purely to sneak a gag in rather than add anything meaningful. But there is no denying that the comedy of Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise masquerading as ambulance drivers, Jack Elam as the less than handsome Doctor Nikolas Van Helsing or Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. as a couple of priests in a Ferrari all generate brilliant laughs.

One of the many reasons why I wonder if "The Cannonball Run" really is a movie is that it often feels like someone has left the camera on and caught the stars just having fun rather than acting. Half way through a scene either Burt Reynolds or Dom DeLuise will be sniggering, trying their hardest not to laugh, which if you sit through the end credits you will see was more often the case with a series of outtakes. It has that sort of friendly feeling of chums having a few drinks and we are privy to the craziness of their drunken escapades and mickey taking.

As for the acting, well for the most I don't think you can call it acting because as already mentioned it just feels like friends having a laugh and no one really has a character, or if they do they are playing to type. What this means is that "The Cannonball Run" has a long list of stars including Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Terry Bradshaw, Jamie Farr, Jackie Chan, Peter Fonda and of course the already mentioned Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. all having fun, being daft and for the most playing to the public perception of them. The only actor who you could accuse of acting is George Furth who as Arthur J. Foyt is the officious little man desperate to stop the Cannonballers from having fun.

What this all boils down to is that whilst "The Cannonball Run" is a lot of fun with crazy car antics more akin to the whacky races it never really feels like a proper movie. With no really storyline and so much giggling going on from the stars as they try to keep a straight face it's both amusing but also forgettable.