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Film: The Cannonball Run
aka: Cannon Ball Run

The Cannonball Run is a 1981 film comedy directed by Hal Needham and starring Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, Dom De Luise, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Jackie Chan, and Farrah Fawcett. It was produced by Hong Kong's Golden Harvest films. There were two sequels, 1984's Cannonball Run II and 1989's Speed Zone! (also known as Cannonball Fever).

The movie is based on the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, an actual cross-country outlaw road race from the Red Ball Garage in New York City (later Darien, CT) to the pier at Redondo Beach, California, just south of Los Angeles. Organized by automotive journalist and the movie's screenwriter Brock Yates. (Yates, replying to concerns about public safety after the first Cannonball: "Never once did we exceed 165 mph.")

The story follows race car driver J.J. McClure (Reynolds) and mild-mannered mechanic counterpart, Victor Prinzim (DeLuise); the latter has a would-be superhero alter ego, "Captain Chaos". Together, they participate in the Cannonball Run in an ambulance — a heavily modified Dodge Tradesman van (which, incidentally, was the same vehicle driven by director Hal Needham during the last actual Cannonball.) They hire a doctor (well.. he owns a white coat, at least..) and kidnap an attractive Intrepid Reporter to serve as a "patient" to help them evade the police during the race. Each of the other Teams Of Hats they race against has their own arsenal of gimmicks for both racing and characterization.

Nowadays considered a guilty pleasure at best, but popular enough in its day to gross $72 million and inspire the sequels. Ironically, 1976's totally unauthorized The Gumball Rally (also inspired by the Cannonball races) is a much better film even though, or perhaps because, no one involved in that film was actually involved in races themselves. Another unauthorized 1976 film, simply titled Cannonball, reversed the direction of the race (California-to-New York) and added more of a Car Fu element.

A remake is in the works, to be directed by Guy Ritchie and financed by Warner Bros. and General Motors.


The Cannonball Run and its sequels contain examples of:

  • Accidental Truth: Mad Dog and Batman tell a motorcycle cop that their brakes have failed. When they attempt to stop, they discover their brakes really have failed.
  • Actor Allusion: Roger Moore's entire role. Plus:
  • Adam Westing: Subverted with Roger Moore, in that he's playing a guy who thinks he's Roger Moore.
    • Originally he was supposed to think he was James Bond, but they couldn't get the rights to use the character.
  • All Bikers Are Hells Angels: In the first movie, a gang of bikers start a brawl with the racers.
    • They also show up in the sequel, where we see them harassing a family of Chinese-Americans selling produce alongside the highway. Jackie Chan shows up and politely asks them to stop. They decide to beat him up instead. Guess what happens next.
  • All-Star Cast: So much so that the films received the same criticism that the Ocean's Eleven movies did two decades later, namely that they were just an excuse for a bunch of stars to hang out and goof around on camera on the studio's dime, plot be damned.
  • Ambulance Cut: After J.J. waves to some women while driving a motorboat, Victor tries to warn him about another boat ahead of them. After the trope plays, they get the idea to use an ambulance in the race.
  • Amphibious Automobile: The car of Jackie Chan in the first sequel can operate like a submarine. Used to evade police.
  • Arab Oil Sheikh
  • Asian and Nerdy: Two characters, one played by Jackie Chan of all people, racing for the car company Subaru.
    • In the first sequel, Jackie reprises his role, this time in a Mitsubishi that sort of closely resembles K.I.T.T. in form and function.
  • Ass Kicking Pose: Subverted comically.
  • Author Avatar: Technically, J.J. and Victor, the Transcon Medi-Vac drivers played by Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise, represent Hal Needham (director, pilot of the real-life Transcon Medi-Vac) and Brock Yates (Cannonball Run inventor, script author, co-pilot of the real-life Transcon Medi-Vac).
  • Bad Habits: In the first film, one team is disguised as Catholic priests. In the second, two actresses playing nuns in The Sound of Music convince J.J. and Victor they're the real things so they can ride with them.
  • BANG Flag Gun
  • The Big Race
  • Blind Driving: In the first film, the stock car shows up at the hotel with its hood flipped over its windshield.
    Mel: I can't see shit, can you?
    Terry: No problem. No problem.
    Drives into a swimming pool.
  • Brains and Brawn: Jackie Chan's character and his new partner for the sequel, Richard "Jaws" Kiel.
  • Butt Monkey: Arthur J. Foyt
  • The Cameo: Several.
  • Captain Ersatz: Played straight during the movie (Captain Chaos... later, "Captain USA!"), but subverted during the Closing Credits ("I always wanted to be Captain America!").
  • Car Meets House: Mad Dog and Batman park their truck in the lobby of the hotel in the first instance of of their 'no brakes' Running Gag.
  • The Cast Showoff: Jackie Chan (still pretty much unknown in America when the film was made) gets to show off his kung fu skills in a random fight scene near the end.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Seymour Goldfarb's "hat"; he perpetually refers to himself as Roger Moore (implying a possible Napoleon Delusion), and his gimmicks are pure recycled James Bond.
  • Cool Car: Several, for various values of "cool". Such as the Lamborghini Countach
  • Cosmic Deadline: Particularly egregious in Cannonball Run II, where the end of the actual race is only shown in a Travel Montage after the big fight scene that serves as the movie's climax.
  • Creative Closing Credits / Hilarious Outtakes
  • Creator Cameo: In the first movie, Brock Yates as the race organiser and Hal Needham appears as the ambulance EMT.
  • The Danza: Jackie Chan as...well, Jackie Chan.
    • The first sequel features Frank Sinatra As Himself, the second one has Brooke Shields as herself.
    • Played in a very interesting fashion with the guys in the stock car (played by Mel Tillis and Terry Bradshaw). In the first film, they're not given names. In the second film, they are named Mel and Terry. The interesting part: 1)Terry has been recast (as the trope namer no less) and 2)he erroneously gives his name as Tony. (He's still listed as "Terry" in the closing credits.)
  • Distracted by the Sexy: J.J. crashes his boat because he was distracted by bikini-clad women on another boat.
    • Also the "hat" of the busty girls in the Lamborgini Countach in the first film. This is pretty much their default tactic until it fails on a female cop.
  • Dr. Feelgood: Dr. Nikolas van Helsing is the habit of injecting himself (and anyone else who asks for it) with the unspecified contents of a hypodermic he always carries, which causes him to get a blissful grin and then pass out.
  • Driving Into A Truck: Implied to have happened (which is to say, we don't actually see it happening). JJ and Victor's car (dressed up like an ambulance) is stopped in line at a roadblock which is set up specifically to catch and arrest Cannonballers. While waiting in line JJ spots a semi with an empty flatbed. Cut to a shot of the semi & flatbed with some large, ambulance-shaped object under a tarp. They sneak by the roadblock under there.
  • Dudley Do-Right Stops to Help: Costs McClure's team the race in the first movie, when Captain Chaos turns away from the finish line to help rescue a random bystander's "baby"(pet dog) from drowning. Lampshaded.
  • Ejection Seat
  • Epic Race
  • Every Car Is a Pinto
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: The second movie has an feisty orangutan as part of a team.
  • Gonk: Jack Elam's Doctor Van Helsing, in all his "glory".
  • The Good Captain: Captain Chaos, oddly enough.
  • Hilarious Outtakes: Their use here inspired Jackie Chan to include them in all of his films (though of course, his outtakes tend to be rather less hilarious, focusing on the grisly results of stunts going wrong).
    • Two outtakes seem to be more memorable 30 years later than the others... (1)J.J. and Victor standing next to the ambulance as Dom continually screws up his lines; and (2) one with Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr, disguised as priests, and some rosary beads.
    Burt Reynolds: I'm gonna take these rosary bleeds [sic] and stick them right up your nose.
    Dean Martin: These bleeds?
  • Hollywood CB
  • I Know Karate: "I must warn you. I'm Roger Moore!"
  • Jewish Mother: Seymour's mother.
  • Logo Joke: The 20th Century Fox fanfare is interrupted by an animated car chase that knocks out the trademark searchlights.
  • Lovable Rogue: J.J. McClure, and most of the other characters as a whole.
  • A Match Made in Stockholm: Burt Reynolds kidnaps Farrah Fawcett.
  • Metallicar Syndrome: Played with when a black Lamborghini tears past another competitor's car on its way to the finish line. The passed car's driver (Dean Martin) asks if it's in the race, and his co-driver (Sammy Davis Jr.) looks at him like he's an idiot before screaming for him to catch it.
    • Likewise in the sequel, where two hot chicks in a Lamborghini are practicing for the Run by messing with the local cops. They even invested in a false paint job: after getting the local cops all worked up looking for a speeding Lamborghini of one color, they drop by a friendly construction site and have the fake paint washed off. Presto, now there's a DIFFERENT speeding Lamborghini with two hot chicks in it tearing around the local cops!
    "If I tell you boys something, you boys won't think I've been drinking, will you? The white Lamborghini has vanished...but there's a RED one behind me—correction, PASSING ME, and it's got two great looking chicks in it!"
  • Mistaken for Gay: The French airplane passenger in Speed Zone whose accent turns a simple offer of food ("You would like my peanuts?") into a risque proposition ("You would like my penis?")
  • Napoleon Delusion: Seymour Goldfarb, Jr. thinks that he is Roger Moore.
  • Night-Vision Goggles: Another fine product of Subaru.
  • Oil Slick: Seymour uses one to ditch a pursuing police car.
  • Over Drive: The "afterburner" of Jackie Chan's car.
  • Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh...
  • Ramprovisation: Mad Dog and Batman use a conveniently placed trailer to jump over a train after the brakes in their truck fail.
  • Random Events Plot: Next time you watch this movie or others like it (Gumball Rally, Speed Zone), compare the number of scenes that are about an illegal, cross-country road race with the number of scenes that just happen to take place during one.
  • Repetitive Name: In the sequel:
    Cannelloni: When I passed the powers of the Don...to my son Don...making him...Don Don...
  • Retirony: According to J.J, his father died two days before he was supposed to retire.
  • Right-Hand Cat: Don Cannelloni has one in the second film. It dies on him and gets replaced.
    This cat is dead. Get me a new cat.
  • Robot Chicken: A segment parodied the movie, featuring the voices of Burt Reynolds and the Late Dom DeLuise.
  • Running Gag: Every time Seymour appears, he is wearing a different tuxedo and is accompanied by a different girl.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Beautiful!: The hat of one of the teams, a pair of be-jumpsuited Lovely Angels who rely on I Have Boobs, You Must Obey! to evade speeding tickets (or to get whatever else they need during the race).
  • Spiritual Successor: The movie has the same star and same director as Smokey and the Bandit.
  • Stutter Stop: Singer Mel Tillis, playing Terry Bradshaw's partner in the race, actually has to sing some of his lines just to get them past his stutter.
  • Superheroes Wear Capes
  • Thematic Theme Tune: Performed by Ray Stevens.
  • Thoroughly Mistaken Identity: One of Seymour's girls thinks he's George Hamilton.
  • Train Escape
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story - many, many examples. Landing an airplane on a city street to buy beer? A famous stunt by Curtis Turner. The fake ambulance? Actually used in a real Cannonball. They even used the same van in the film.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Doesn't work when you're pulled over by a Fair Cop.
    • Catherine Bach's character plays it straight in the first sequel to persuade a tow truck driver to go with her team after she and her partner hijack his pickup.
  • Wacky Racing
  • Weaponized Car: Seymour's Aston-Martin.
  • Wrench Whack: In the brawl with the bikers, J.J. punches a huge biker in the face several times to no effect in a Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh... moment. The biker mockingly points to the other side of his jaw and suggests J.J. try there. J.J. says "Thanks" and immediately smacks the biker across the face with a spanner.


The Silence of the LambsCreator/Orion PicturesSummer Lovers
CaddyshackJustForFun/Tropes Examined by the Myth BustersCSI: Crime Scene Investigation
Cannibal FeroxFilms of the 1980sCaveman
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KidCreator/ 20 th Century FoxCast Away

alternative title(s): Cannonball Run; The Cannonball Run
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