Hollywood will occasionally tend to have a moment of odd convergence when all of the stars of a particular era will get together for one film that is implausibly premised, but the production serves as more of an excuse for the cast to get together and drink and cavort until the wee hours of the morning. The Ocean's Eleven films are the best example of this, but to a lesser degree, the Cannonball Run films were just as guilty of the same behavior. It's hard to believe that it's been thirty years since the first one, which happens to be arriving on Blu-ray. In watching it again, oof.
Before we get to that, let's get the formalities out of the way. The film was written by Brock Yates, who wrote the second film in the Smokey and the Bandit series, and who participated in an original Cannonball race in 1972 and was part of a team in 1979 with the Cannonball director Hal Needham. The two drove an ambulance from New York to California with an actual doctor, and Yates' wife served as the ambulance's "passenger." The Cannonball race is an easy concept to grasp: drive from one coast to the other, and don't get caught by police (the Cannonball has been revived more recently as a series of races titled Gumballs). In the film, the ambulance team dynamic was revived, with Burt Reynolds (Smokey and the Bandit) as driver J.J. McClure and Dom DeLuise (Blazing Saddles) as his assistant Victor, who has a superhero alter ego named Captain Chaos. Victor first hears about the Cannonball and persuades J.J. to do it, and Victor has to find the Doctor and patient. The former is played by Jack Elam (Rio Lobo) playing the former, a Doctor Nikolas Van Helsing ("professor of proctology and other related tendencies"). Farrah Fawcett (Logan's Run) plays the latter, an environmental activist named Pamela who J.J. nicknames "Beauty" because if nothing else, either he forgets her name or it's simply not important to him, and because of the era and the actor, it could possibly be a toss-up. The other drivers in the race are stars of various fashion in 1981, be it Rat Pack members Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr, game show host Bert Convy or starlet Adrienne Barbeau (Swamp Thing). Some members of the cast would appear to be producer-influenced decisions, namely executive producer (and Hong Kong native) Raymond Chow's choice to introduce a young 26-year old Jackie Chan to the group of Cannonballers as "Jackie Chan, Subaru Driver." Then you have the members of the cast that are identifiable yet you are struck by why it is they are in the film, whether it's Roger Moore or Jamie Farr. Each of the drivers gets their own comic moment in the sun, with Reynolds' character getting the chance to develop a relationship with Fawcett's because, well...that's just how things worked back in the day? By the end of the film's 96 minutes, you are supposed to be less concerned about who's winning the race and more just amused by the transparent plot.
The big problem with the film is the jokes in it are so flat that they don't hold up to today's audience, whether it's someone seeing the film the first time or if you see it again for the first time in years. I watched the whole thing and the only funny thing to me was Reynolds doing a Donald Duck noise with his cheek to avoid making a sexually snide comment. Sure, it's juvenile, but then again it was the only thing I could find that allowed me to chuck my sensibilities aside, loosen up and just have some fun. Needham appeared to have been in a bind when it came to Cannonball Run: he couldn't necessarily let the story stand aside because it would deprive someone in the cast to ham it up on camera, and when he tried to get some camera shots that would appear to car enthusiasts, the shots are fun for a second, but when you've seen one "Wow, look at how fast that car goes on a desert straightaway" shot, you've seen them all.
The other thing that I was struck by when watching Cannonball Run is for better or worse, this film reeks of the 1970s. I don't know whether it was Martin and Davis, Reynolds and DeLuise, the objectification (the latter of which I didn't mind), but I felt like I was drinking a fifth of Glenlivet and smoking a pack of Winstons during and after the movie. It was additionally a bit sad looking at how many people from here aren't here anymore. Whether it was illness, natural causes or sudden death, it was depressing to add up the Butcher's Bill at the end of this. That said, I'm guessing a lot of these guys went the same way as they lived; fun, partying and enjoying life, regardless of whether they realized they were in this thing or not.
There have been movies and even television shows that have captured the feeling and enjoyment of road trips better than this, and that list even includes Road Trip. You're better off enjoying those films if you want to replicate the experience, but if you've ever wanted to see a 96 minute-long inside joke, then this is the thing for you.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The film is a mix of different things going on within the AVC-encoded 1.85:1 presentation. On one hand, colors look okay albeit a little faded. The image is in decent shape, though there appear to be bouts of DNR and edge enhancement around the main characters. Shadow delineation is a bit weak which runs concurrently with subpar black levels, and despite all of this there would appear to be the slightest hint of film grain in occasional scenes in the country. There's no denying that age has to be taken into consideration when viewing The Cannonball Run on Blu-ray, but the disc's video qualities are just...there.
DTS-HD Master Audio lossless 5.1 surround for the film, which is a surprise considering the original audio was mono. With that said, the other 3.1 channels do little (if any) noticeable) work, with the film's action devoted in the front of the soundstage. There is sparse use of directional activity or channel panning, and if you are expecting subwoofer engagement because of all the car engines in the film, prepare to be disappointed. The soundtrack replicates the film's original sound about as accurately as can be expected.
The extras, er, extra, from the standard definition disc is brought over to the Blu-ray, namely the commentary from Needham and Ruddy. To their credit, the pair do possess quite a bit of recall on the production, touching upon the cast that did do the movie and the others (Don Rickles, Frank Sinatra) that didn't. Needham recounts his own experiences on the Cannonball and the drama in securing Reynolds for the cinematic one. With all the reminiscing the track does tend to lose a little steam about halfway in, but it's surprisingly decent (and better than most that I've heard for more recent films lately in all honesty).
The Cannonball Run is maybe an enjoyable romp for folks who want to relive some juvenile humor, but take it from one who fits the bill, I didn't see it, nor did I enjoy much of it. Technically it's weak and little more than a high-definition upgrade from its standard definition little brother. Unless you feel like a masochist, I'd be better off watching countless other road films (or even Top Gear) for my mix of goofy humor and automobile pornography.