The Scenic Route: The Cannonball Run (1981)

"I'd like to welcome you all to an event that sometimes been called the automotive counterpart to the Bay of Pigs."

"When you leave, you're gonna punch out here at this time clock. 3,000 miles roughly away from here is another time clock just like that at the Portofino Inn. And the difference between the two times is your time across the country. The record stand at 32 hours and 51 minutes, and, believe it or not, those guys did break the 55 mile-an-hour speed limit." 

"You all are certainly the most distinguished group of highway scofflaws and degenerates ever gathered in one place, and we're gonna have a lot of fun."

"Of course, you know certain skeptics note that perhaps 10,000 of the nation's most elite Highway patrolmen are out waiting for us after we start, but let's think positively."
"Think of the fact that there is not one state in the 50 that has the death penalty for speeding, although I'm not so sure about Ohio."
Time to play... Is That Worf? (Survey says: Not Worf.)


The Cannonball Run is not really the type of movie I originally meant to showcase in this Scenic Route series. Not that I'm following any hard and fast criteria, but compared to the aesthetics in something like The French Connection or Blow-Up, both the cars and other scenery of Cannonball are more like a Hawaiian Tropic Maxim spread compared to a Victoria's Secret show or an art gallery opening or something.

But man, did I love this movie when I was 8! I must have watched it more than I remember, as every other scene triggered a memory. I can't express my gratitude enough for when these sorts of things happen; as expressed elsewhere (and often) this is the closest to time travel I will probably get in this lifetime. I've been thinking about doing a new series of posts of Movies I Loved at Various Ages for just such a reason. (Our new slogan: "Dog Star Omnibus: Come for the 'Caps, Stay for the Time Travel!") And originally I had this one slated for that, but rewatching it, I don't think there's too, too much I really have to say about it. 

That said, it hasn't aged all that well.  

It's a Rat Pack sort of movie, where Frank Burt is mated with the era's alpha female:
"Beauty" (Farrah)
With a bevy of secondary beauties for Sammy and Dino (literally, here:)

Some of its humor is racist and obviously sexist and anything else you can think of. 

Although at least they cast actual Asians (Golden Harvest legends Jackie Chan and Michael Hui) and not Mickey Rooney in yellowface or something.
Buuuut that's not to say it's a particularly enlightened approach to their characters. Actually, these guys are fun and by all accounts enjoyed themselves immensely, but some of the music cues are a little confused. (And these two Chinese dudes playing Japanese. Not that it hurt the film's business in Japan and Hong Kong.)

But whatever you think of all the above, the heart of the movie lies in the abusive relationship between JJ and Victor, i.e. Burt and Dom. 

At one point, Victor tells Beauty how and why Captain Chaos came into being:

"When I was real young, I didn't have any friends, like I do now."
"Like JJ?"
"Like JJ. One day I was in the schoolyard, and 9 guys were beating me up pretty good. And then there he was."
"Captain Chaos?"
"Yeah! Out of the blue. Pow! Slam! Bam! Boff! I sure was grateful. Nobody bothered me at school after that."

So as a youngster Victor created an alter ego who could do what he could not: stand up against the bullies. As an adult, his best friend ("Like JJ!") spends at least two thirds of the movie either warning Victor he's going to "get a crack" or literally slugging him hard in the chops.

A friend brought this to my attention when I mentioned having watched this a few weeks ago. Now there's a physical-comedy/slapping/hey-wise-guy tradition in entertainment going way back, sure, and there are even those who suggest all comedy is just a release of the violence hard-wired in our DNA. But given the whole Captain Chaos angle, this is a very bizarre deconstruction of this just-slugging-around-my-toadie trope.

I mentioned to the same friend that around the time of Burton's Batman, I saw some letter column chatter about Burt Reynolds being cast as The Comedian, but all I could picture was Cannonball Run and while there's a certain visual resemblance, how unsuitable I thought he'd be for such a role. He wrote (and I hope he doesn't mind me quoting him) "Reynolds circa Smokey and the Bandit seems like visually he'd have been a good fit as the Comedian. Though, as you note, nothing he did, then or since, gave any indication of him being capable of the truly malevolent edge necessary. Except those bloopers at the end of Cannonball. There's that one moment, when Deluise is about to don his 'superhero' costume, where Reynolds really cracks him across the face. I looked at that moment in slow-mo and as a freeze-frame, and the look on Reynolds's face shows a chilling flash of anger as he grinds out "STOP laughing!" You can see the shock on the faces of some of the others, like Farrah Fawcett, and hear the nervous laughter. It's that kind of thing that makes him as the Comedian plausible, at least circa 1989."

I did the same back-and-to-the-left/the-dollar-bill-is-trying-to-tell-me-something examination and came to the same uncomfortable conclusion. The scene with Farrah and Adrienne is particularly revealing, as Barbeau is clearly angry about it whereas Farrah seems to be used to seeing such things. My own projection perhaps. 

At any rate, let us all apologize to the late Mr. DeLuise's memory for failing to heed his cry for help. 

Three quick last things: 

 - Jamie Farr is surprisingly great. I'm not the biggest Farr fan. He's one of the reasons I can't get into M.A.S.H. But he commits to this role as the incorrigible sheik with admirable enthusiasm.

- I laughed at every music cue for Jack Elam.

- And speaking of music, if a better crossroads of honky-tonk, cocaine, and disco exist than the theme song to this movie, I haven't heard it. This has been in my head for weeks, and the lyrics/ arrangement continue to delight me. 

"What do you do when you've done it all?

I mean, what? Glorious. I wonder if they meant "Baal" for the second line there. That'd be even hilariouser. 



  1. This film takes me way back. At the time, I found Moore mocking his Bond role highly amusing. I wonder how hard or easy it would be to watch this film now?
    Still, it would have been a blast being on that set every day. You can imagine the stories this cast would have told at happy hour after filming.

    1. I bet, yeah. Sinatra said the only reason he did the sequel was because everyone looked like they were having a blast on the set and he wanted to come hang out.

      Which is odd because his scenes in CR2 look like they were filmed on another soundstage with no other cast members. They weren't, actually, but they're so disconnected from everything else that I wonder if he didn't show up and just start grumbling, Old-Frank-style, and then leave after a half-day's shoot or something.

    2. Oh, and my calendar tells me it's Australia Day, so Happy Aussie Day, sir! Hope you have the day off and are grilling or Twilight-Zone-marathoning or circumnavigating Tasmania or doing whatever traditional activities the holiday brings.

  2. I watched this again a couple of years ago for the first time since probably the mid-eighties. Like you, I used to absolutely LOVE this movie. And doggone it, I still enjoyed it as an adult; probably that's the hick in me coming out. I'm okay with that.

    Everything Jack Elam does in this movie cracks me up; but yeah, especially the musical accompaniment.

    That opening theme song is something else. Disco country? Discountry? Cocaine, though, for sure.

    It doesn't all work, of course. I'm not sure most of it works; I'm not sure MUCH of it works. And I suspect that if you sat the average person who is currently between the ages of 10 and 25 and made 'em watch it, they'd be absolutely perplexed by it.

    Time for a remake! It would almost certainly star Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart, but that'd be the absolute wrong approach. I say go for Jason Statham and have him do exactly what he did in "Spy" (i.e., do a very credible tough-guy version of Leslie Nielsen). Hire only people who aren't know for comedy and then have them all play it like it's "The Naked Gun" and I guarantee you it makes $200 million.

    1. I bet you're right on that last part.

      I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy the crap out of myself with this revisit as well. (Although I felt kind of bad for Dom DeLuise this time around.)

      What do you think of "Cannonball Run 2"?

      Other Burt and Dom: did you ever see "The End?"

    2. I don't THINK I ever saw "The End," but I remember my parents watching it and sort of talking about it. So it always seemed like a big deal, which is probably inaccurate.

      "Cannonball Run II" -- I remember not even liking that one as a kid, so it must be fairly horrendous.

    3. It's pretty bad, yeah. There's one brief flash of near-nudity that burned itself onto my gray matter that I was excited to rediscover fot about a tenth of a second. But that's it. And really, when that's the high water mark of your movie, well then.

      "The End" I'd like to see again. It's tough to track down.