Let's all join in a moment of reverence for the awe-inspiring Ernest "Cannonball" Baker. Waaaay back in 1914, Cannonball mounted his motorcycle and made the 11 day, 12 hour and 10 minute trip across the grand old U.S. of A. -- that's 3,379 miles. And he'd do it again and again. His best time was in 1933, traversing from New York to Los Angeles by car in 53 hours and 30 minutes at an average speed of 60 miles per hour. That's before interstates, folks. In 1971, gearheads and speedfreaks embarked on the first of a few yearly tributes known as the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash. This need for speed even beset Hollywood and road pictures became all the rage with the likes of Death Race 2000, The Gumball Rally and the very first Cannonball. It'd be about five years before The Cannonball Run (1981, 96 minutes) would embrace the same racing formula, but never before had such a cast of mega-stars been at the wheel. Now, that was 20 YEARS AGO, so y'all let it sink in how HUGE a certain Mr. Burt Reynolds was then. How about Dean Martin!? Farrah Fawcett!? Even James FREAKIN' Bond!!! [See Chart 1a: Tinseltown Time Machine for 1981 vs. 2001 cast comparison.]
The movie: After totalling their original mode of transportation, Burt and rotund sidekick Dom DeLuise ponder the best means of blazing across the country on four wheels without raising the attention of Johnny Law. It's while they're being rushed to the hospital -- after crashing their speedboat -- that inspiration strikes. AN AMBULANCE! Meanwhile, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. don priestly garb behind the wheel of their Ferrari. Adrienne Barbeau and Tara Buckman choose to rely on the overwhelming speed of their Lamborgini and their enormous feminine wiles. Everyone thinks they have THE gimmick that'll give them the edge in this cross-country race for glory. With the presence of natural wiseasses Burt & Dom and Dean & Sammy comedy easily wells up among the orgy of car chases. More than that, we've got Stunts-O-Rama!!! Bert Convy rides a motorcycle out of the back of an airplane! A team jumps their truck over a TRAIN! But unlike Death Race 2000, no one ever gets hurt -- not even the smokies. It's simply good family entertainment with gratuitous cleavage. CineSchlockers will recall that the Chairman of the Board himself joined his fellow Rat Packers in the only honest-to-goodness sequel (available on a tragically fullframe DVD). However, Brook Shields is certainly easy on the eyes in the low-gear, non-sequel sequel Speed Zone.
Notables: No breasts. No corpses. Drinking and flying. Seltzer to the crotch. Exploding van. Goosing. Excessive wheeze laughter. Monkey wrench to the jaw. Boozing. Subaru launching. Gratuitous Smokey and the Bandit reference. Wild driving.
Quotables: Farrah championed the cause of environmentalism long before it was fashionable, "You know what I like best about trees? You can lie under them on a moonlit night, with the breeze blowing, and ball your brains out." Campaign banner of Sean "Kill a Commie" O'Scanlon reads, "God, guns and guts keep us safe from hippie nuts." Dean kids Sammy about his height, "You're small! S -- M -- ALL."
Time codes: First appearance of Captain Chaos (6:50). Plane makes an emergency landing on busy city street -- for beer (8:30). Terry Bradshaw parks his car in the hotel swimming pool (17:20). Behold the power of Farrah's nipples (26:50). The famous 007 Aston Martin (31:40). Ms. Barbeau's amazing peekaboo zipper rises and falls BY ITSELF (46:30). Jackie Chan loves porno movies (1:14:10). The all-star biker brawl (1:20:30).
Audio/Video: Really nice widescreen (1.85:1) print with bright colors and solid black levels. Brand new Dolby Digital 5.1 track that lets the engines roar. Dolby Digital Surround track also included.
Extras: Fearless stuntman and motion-picture director Hal Needham and producer Albert Ruddy provide a homespun commentary full of fun tidbits, such as the fact that Needham actually raced in one of the Cannonballs in a souped up ambulance that could cruise at 145 miles per hour (the very 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 pull out the balance sheet and 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. But THESE outtakes mostly involve Burt smacking Dom in the face or privates while they both laugh hysterically. At the last moment, Al suggested it's time for Part III, but CineSchlockers shouldn't hold their breath, as Hal was slow to agree. Cast and crew bios. Static menus without audio.
Final thought: They simply DON'T make movies with this level of celebrity excess and reckless abandon anymore. Rent the sequel and indulge in a nearly four-hour marathon of high-octane, low-brow hilarity. Highly Recommended.
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G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.