Disc Reviews

The Cannonball Run/The Cannonball Run II – Blu-Ray Review

the-cannonball-run-eawidecHal Needham’s incredibly successful, all-star 1981 comedy car race classic comes to Blu-Ray, as does its 1984 sequel. Let’s have a look at them both.

In writing this review, this author rather wished the task at hand was to produce one of our classic (often lengthy) retrospective pieces that formed a large part of what we did here at Filmwerk, particularly before we started the Podcast. In that hypothetical scenario; there would have been copious reminiscences about how much the first film connected with the young BP, and how it has to be one of the most quotable movies still is to this day. Come to think of it, if the phrase “If you’re gonna be a bear, be a Grizzly” hasn’t made it in to at least one Pegley review; it would be quite a shocker. Suffice to say, it is a shame (for me), that this isn’t a retrospective brief, as it means one must stay on topic. But it’s still a pleasure. Why? Because it’s The Cannonball Run baby and that’s something guaranteed to put a smile on one’s face.

Starring Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Farrah Fawcett’s nipples and an impressive supporting cast including Roger Moore, Jackie Chan, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jnr, Jamie Farr, and about a million other stars of stage and screen.

The movie is basically a comedic dramatization of writer (and real life Cannonball race founder), Brock Yates’ experience taking part in the 1979 Cannonball cross country race. If you are unaware of what the race is all about then all you really need to know is that the idea is to get from one side of the country to the other, by car, in the shortest time possible. There may or may not be speeding involved…


So, Reynolds and company clearly appear to be having a great time; the chemistry is good, and the writing is genuinely funny. As I said previously; it must be one of the most quotable movies of all time. All the characters seem likeable, or at least have something about them that endears. Of particular note was the presence of Roger Moore, then still the incumbent James Bond, sending himself up royally. It’s marvellous, and I can think of no significant comparison before or since.

For petrol heads there are some extremely groovy cars on show including the totally awesome, bedroom wall adorning black Lamborghini Countach, driven by the delectable Adrienne Barbeau and Tara Buckman.

The whole thing is of course very couched in a certain meat headed Middle American, chauvinistic tone, and much more a product of the 70s than how the 80s would later be defined. However, despite any and all of that, one simply feels that there is a good heart beating at the centre of it all. This goodness is tested somewhat by the very worst of the dubious expressions of gender politics or race depicted in the film, but survives…just.

Despite a massive box office take on release; The Cannonball Run received an unmitigated drubbing at the hands of critics and reviewers alike. Even today, most review sites do not rate it very highly. However, it is interesting to see that in synchronicity with its original reception; actual viewer ratings are generally far higher than critic/reviewer ratings. They hate it; we love it, go figure!

In 1984, the inevitable sequel appeared starring much of the original core cast, but adding notable figures such as Frank Sinatra, Tele Savalas, Shirley MacLaine, Marilu Henner and Richard Kiel to the mix. Some of these casting choices are more successful than others. This time though, we get much more of a nutty comic caper. There seems to be a lot of panto mobsters running around with brief cases of money, and a lot less emphasis on the Cannonball race itself. This was no doubt due to the absence of the aforementioned primary Cannonballer Brock Yates from the credits. For this fan, the lack of actual Cannonballing is kind of a fundamental stumbling block to the film being as much fun. Reynolds in particular seems to have the words ‘favour’ and ‘Paycheck’ plastered all over his face during the whole thing, as do some of the others.

Fans of the series and this kind of genre in general do seem to like the second movie, but as the tone of these words is no doubt already indicating; for this author, it’s a pale imitation and only the first film really hits the spot. There’s some fun stuff to be had for sure, a couple of nice cars, and some of the playful pep and zest from the original still lingers in places. For yours truly though, it’s completely forgettable and the race is over.

The Blu-Ray discs

Both films have been given a wash and brush up, and the resulting picture quality is as you might expect for releases of this nature. Of the two movies; the second comes out of the restoration treatment looking slightly cleaner. This could possibly be due simply to superior production values between the two movies. Bearing in mind the first one was made very cheaply but did splendid box office, the second film no doubt benefited from that in terms of available budget. Who knows, it’s just a theory that may have a little traction in it. Neither transfers are in danger of toppling Jaws off the classic movie HD top spot however, but that should not be seen as too terrible a shortcoming.

Bonus Material

Neither of the films will set pulses racing in terms of special features. In fact, both are not far short of being vanilla plain in this department.

The Cannonball Run gets a stills gallery, the original trailer, and a recent short interview with Sir Roger Moore. This is actually rather fun and we get to see Mr. Moore reminisce about the production and cast from his point of view. It’s short, and leaves you crying out for Moore (sic), but it’s good. As a bonus material whore, this writer would have loved to see other surviving cast members contributing similar pieces. A Hal Needham/Brock Yates commentary would be the Holy Grail, but alas with Needham passing away in 2013; it’ll never happen. Alas there is nothing else on the disc to whet the appetite.

Perhaps in reflection of its less exalted status; The Cannonball Run II only gets the trailer and stills gallery treatment. No other supplemental material is included.

As is often the case with releases of this nature, one can safely announce that this is now the best way to view the movies, but if you already own either of them on DVD; it might be a slightly tougher decision to bother upgrading or not, especially with the second film.

The Cannonball Run is a product of a bygone era in Hollywood filmmaking, and one that many people these days (particularly critics) seem happy to deride or just forget about. However, for anyone of a certain vintage; the movie can and does hold a special spot in the heart, and always will. So fuel up, strap in and enjoy the ride, because God is our co-pilot, and our driving is rivalled only by the lightning bolts from the heavens!


The Cannonball Run

4 Stars




The Cannonball Run II 

2 Stars




Benjamin Pegley



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