Moore Not Less - The Cannonball Run

The Cannonball Run is a 1981 comedy film based on a real life outlawed road race (the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial) that had already inspired two similar films in The Gumball Rally and Cannonball. It was directed by stuntman turned director Hal Needham. Needham had already directed a couple of films with Burt Reynolds - including Smokey and the Bandit. Reynolds, at this time one of the biggest box-office stars in the world, agreed to appear in the film as a favour to Needham. Reynolds picked up a generous payday for a couple of weeks work and later confessed that he didn't like the film. Reynolds had been trying to move away from silly car chase comedies at the time(presumably in an attempt to avoid typecasting) but obviously couldn't resist the money on offer. "I did that film for all the wrong reasons," said Reynolds. "I never liked it. I did it to help out a friend of mine, Hal Needham. And I also felt it was immoral to turn down that kind of money. I suppose I sold out so I couldn't really object to what people wrote about me."
The Cannonball Run is awash with famous faces and cameos although you may need to be American to recognise all of them. The really famous ones everyone will recognise? Rat Packers Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr, Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Jackie Chan, Farrah Fawcett, and Roger Moore - here sending up his Bond image and driving around in an Aston Martin. Roger explained in his autobiography that he told director Hal Needham that he wouldn't spoof James Bond but he would spoof Roger Moore! So Roger plays a character who thinks he is Roger Moore - the actor who plays Bond. It was rumoured that Cubby Broccoli was unhappy at Roger's spoofery in The Cannonball Run and made him sign a contract not to lampoon 007. Roger denied though that this ever actually happened.
The Cannonball Run was lambasted by critics - especially Roger Ebert. 'The Cannonball Run is an abdication of artistic responsibility at the lowest possible level of ambition,' wrote Ebert in his 1981 review. 'In other words, they didn't even care enough to make a good lousy movie. Cannonball was probably always intended as junk, as an easy exploitation picture. But it's possible to bring some sense of style and humor even to grade-zilch material. This movie doesn't even seem to be trying.' However, despite the poor reviews, The Cannonball Run proved to be a decent hit at the box-office and spawned a 1984 sequel. The sequel was just more of the same really but is worth a quick look for no other reason than the fact that it has Richard Kiel and Jackie Chan together in one of the cars.
Roger Moore declined to appear in the sequel because he felt the 'I am Roger Moore' joke had run its course in the first film and he'd also been upset by a car accident on the set that involved one of the women who played his companions. Stuntwoman Heidi Von Beltz was also left a quadriplegic after a terrible crash. Roger later said that he regretted turning down the sequel because it featured Frank Sinatra and he would have loved to work with him. While making The Cannonball Run, Roger became good friends with Dean Martin (Dean Martin and Roger were in houses quite near one another and so shared a car to and from the set each day) and Burt Reynolds. It was then a (mostly) pleasant experience for Roger but is the film a pleasant experience for the viewer?

The Cannonball Run is a film many people will probably have fond memories of watching as a child growing up. Needless to say though it's a much more hit or miss affair and more of a slog as an adult. This is a very self-indulgent mess with little or no plot save for the fact that the characters are all involved in a crazy car race. It descends into a game of spot the guest star but manages to get some modest steam out of this novelty. Everyone looks like they got well paid for a few weeks work. That's a polite way of saying half the cast look slightly sozzled as they goof around in tongue-cheek fashion. There are some car stunts and a few laughs. It's a Hal Needham film. If you are expecting Lawrence of Arabia you've come to the wrong place.
There's Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise in an ambulance as our main participants. A sedated looking Burt is clearly here for a quick payday and looks like he's trying not to laugh in every scene with DeLuise. DeLuise has a superhero alter-ego called Captain Chaos who is referred to as "him". I've never quite got this joke to be honest. Jack Elam (the mad bug-eyed looking old western actor) is funny though as the bonkers Doctor Nikolas Van Helsing - constantly trying to inject people in the bottom with his hypodermic needle.
Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr are con men dressed as priests driving a Ferrari, Klinger from M*A*S*H (otherwise known as Jamie Farr) is a Middle-Eastern sheikh in a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, Adrienne Barbeau and Tara Buckman are spandex sexpots in a Lamborghini, Farrah Fawcett is a photographer who gets mixed up in the craziness, and this is merely the tip of the iceberg. There are other gratutitous cameos and 'guest stars'. 
Jackie Chan plays a Japanese (I bet that must have thrilled the Hong Kong Chinese actor) driver in a high-tech Subaru with Michael Hui. The Cannonball Run was part financed by Hong Kong's Golden Harvest (which explains why Jackie is in the film) and it's interesting to see Chan in his first Hollywood part. He was already a superstar in the Far East. Sadly, Jackie is given far too little to do in The Cannonball Run. He only gets one fight scene during a mass brawl against a gang of bikers headed by Peter Fonda (another guest star). Interestingly though, Jackie picked up the idea of a blooper outtake reel to end his classic Hong Kong films from Hal Needham.
roger moore cannonball run
Roger is mummy's boy Seymour Goldfarb Jr, a ladies underwear businessman who drives a gadget laden Aston Martin DB5 and seems to think he's Roger Moore. It's a strange meta joke. "I realise the novelty of a major celebrity entering your little race, but kindly resist the temptation and keep the media coverage to a minimum. Thank you." Seymour's car is equipped with all manner of gadgets but they usually backfire in a most un-Bond like fashion. It's fun to see Roger driving an Aston Martin (something that never happened in his Bond films) and he's amusing enough in the film, enjoying the chance to participate in some self-mockery. It's funny the way they have him with a different female companion throughout the film. He seems to be enjoying himself but you'd hardly call it acting.
The race often plays second fiddle to the cameos and comic vignettes but there is some decent car destruction Blues Brothers style as the police try (and fail) to put a stop to the race or catch one of the contestants from time to time. The lack of focus on the race is rather annoying at times. I must have watched this film more than once growing up but for the life of me I could never remember who actually won the race. This is the sort of film that plays in the background and you'll dip in and out and ocacsionally stop to enjoy the eclectic cast and all the cars. Oh look there's Jack Elam as the mad doctor. Jackie Chan's car is in night vision mode, etc. Look too hard though and it becomes very flimsy and amateurish. The Cannonball Run hasn't really stood the test of time very well but then it was probably never designed to be scrutinised under a critical gaze. It's hard though to be too snobby on a film that doesn't take itself seriously in the slightest.
The Cannonball Run is not so much a film as a loose collection of skits, stunts, and comedy cameos. If you like car chase capers you might get a kick out of this and there are a few laughs here and there but it does rather outstay its welcome in the end once you have enjoyed the initial novelty of trying to recognise all the famous faces. Ultimately, I would sum up The Cannonball Run as somewhat tiresome at times but decent fun in small doses.
- Jake

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