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A quick trip to nowhere
Frank Deford
June 29, 1981
In "The Cannonball Run," cars crash, blow up and plunge into pools (above), all in vain pursuit of genuine comedy
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June 29, 1981

A Quick Trip To Nowhere

In "The Cannonball Run," cars crash, blow up and plunge into pools (above), all in vain pursuit of genuine comedy

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The Cannonball Run was first revealed to the civilized world some years ago in an article by Brock Yates in this magazine (Oct. 23, 1972). Participants in this so-called competition vie to see who can drive the fastest, over public thoroughfares, from coast to coast. The record for crossing the country, we are advised, is 32 hours, 51 minutes—an average speed of about 90 mph in a land where the law says 55. The idea of vehicles hurtling along at nearly twice the legal limit, racing, endangering the life and limb of tax-paying stiffs, doesn't seem very funny to me, and to celebrate same in a film makes for a dubious venture. When at last I was freed from the theater where I had viewed The Cannonball Run, my only desire (apart from hoping that I would suddenly be struck with a mild case of amnesia) was to purchase a SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL POLICE bumper sticker.

While the Moral Majority and other arbiters rant about sex and violence on the screen, no one ever speaks up against vehicular mayhem on film. Alas, strictures against speeding and reckless driving are nowhere included in the Decalogue; how much better off we would all be if there were a Thou Shalt Not Speed on the tablets, instead of, say, that fuzzy business about coveting.

Hollywood has long made the automobile a prime instrument of slapstick. But now with The Cannonball Run we have drunk driving and assault with a vehicular weapon certified as a laff riot. We have cars humorously piling into a motel lobby, into a crowded swimming pool, into a police cruiser (blowing it up in a holocaust). Plus Lots More! A motorcycle plows into a jammed barroom. An airplane lands on a city street. A speedboat slams into a pleasure craft. For some reason, no school bus full of screaming little children runs, sidesplittingly, off a cliff. Chase films are one thing, but in recent years they have metamorphosed into crash films. The fun used to be that cars missed objects that suddenly loomed up as we all screeched, but in Cannonball cars go out of their way to collide, the more head-on, the better.

This movie is all the more inexcusable because it is obviously intended to amuse children; no adult with a mentality greater than your average muffler could appreciate such imbecility. The asinine script is credited to Mr. Yates, who appears to be turning this thin concept into a regular cottage industry. It was from ragged bits and pieces of Cannonball that a full-blown TV series was to be created for Terry Bradshaw and Mel Tillis. Mercifully, for the sake of art and Steeler fans alike, the TV pilot didn't fly. But next? A comic strip? T shirts? Epic poem? Home video game?

The cast is an absolute classic, as disparate a collection of amateurs and has-beens as has ever filled the silver screen. Besides the Messrs. Bradshaw and Tillis, we have Bianca Jagger; Jimmy the Greek; Peter Fonda, back on a motorcycle; Roger Moore, playing himself to a split decision; Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., dressed up as priests; Joe Klecko; Jamie Farr; and Yates.

The three principals, as it were, are Farrah Fawcett, Dom DeLuise and Burt Reynolds. Poor Farrah. For this she gave up wealth and Charlie's Angels? Compared to The Cannonball Run, an average script of Charlie's Angels reads like Ibsen. DeLuise, never funny to me, is never funnier. And Reynolds. What are we to make of him? He keeps moaning to the world that nobody takes him seriously as an actor, and then he goes slumming again and makes a piece of junk like this, playing second banana to a carburetor. Who's serious?

Surely Reynolds doesn't need the money, and there is simply no more in the way of double entendre mugging, smirking, eyebrow-raising, beer-chugalugging, in-joking and general good-oleboying that he can bring to the truckin', CB and crash genre. If he wants to grow up to be Cary Grant, fine. If he wants to grow up to be Burt Reynolds, fine, too, because I think that actor (character?) is a dandy one. But what's beginning to worry me is that Reynolds really only wants to grow up to be a car. Does this man suffer from piston envy?

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