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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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?")
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.
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.
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.