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Film / The Gumball Rally

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"Ladies, gentlemen, you have been selected because you have the necessary skills. You are here because you have the determination to succeed. Now, it won't be as easy as last year. There are some who will use any means to try and stop us. Some of you won't make it. For those of you who do, there'll be no glory, no headlines...but just a few magic hours flat out against the red line with no catalytic converter and no fifty-five mile an hour speed limit. Ladies and gentlemen, the Gumball Rally has begun!"
Michael Bannon, commencement speech

A 1976 American action comedy film directed and co-written by veteran stuntman Charles Bail, about an illegal cross-country road race. The large Ensemble Cast includes Michael Sarrazin, Raúl Juliá, Normann Burton, Gary Busey, John Durren, Susan Flannery, Steven Keats, and Tim McIntire.

Wealthy but bored businessman Michael Bannon (Sarrazin) issues the code word "Gumball" to his fellow automobile enthusiasts, who gather in a garage in New York City to embark on a coast-to-coast road race "with no catalytic converter and no 55-mile-per-hour speed limit." Their nemesis, LAPD lieutenant Roscoe (Burton), also learns of the race and most of the film is devoted to the misadventures of the various driving teams and Roscoe's ineffectual attempts to apprehend them. Hilarity Ensues.

The race ends at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, where the finishers celebrate their adventures and the defeated Roscoe skulks off to one side—until a fleet of police cars and tow trucks arrive to impound the vehicles; it turns out that Roscoe had contrived in advance to see to it that all of the racers were illegally parked. Bannon congratulates Roscoe on his final victory, and again utters the code word "Gumball" to initiate a race back to New York.

Compare The Cannonball Run; both films were inspired by the same real-life outlaw race.

The Gumball Rally provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Gibson is amused when the cop racing team makes them pull over so they can drive past at one point. Preston is pretty damn angry that it happened, though.
    Gibson: Dammit if you can't take a joke!
  • The Alleged Car: One of the teams enters the race with a Jaguar, but it refuses to start and they give up after they end up twelve hours behind all of the other teams.
  • Arch-Enemy: Roscoe considers Smith to be this, because Smith is the biggest "schemer" of the two organizers of the Rally. Both Smith and Bannon consider Roscoe more of a Friendly Enemy.
  • Artistic License – Cars: Lapchik rides a Kawasaki KH400, but for most of the movie it sounds like a dinky 50cc scoot, possibly for comedic effect.
  • As You Know: Smith acknowledges the fact that some (but not all) of the racers are newcomers to the competition to explain the rules of the Gumball Rally to the audience.
  • Avengers Assemble: The film starts with Bannon sending the rally code for the Gumball Rally drivers to convene for a new bout, and a montage of a few of the teams answering.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Lapchick's decision to make the Rally in a Cool Bike was cool, sure, but unfortunately it makes him more exposed to the elements than if he had been driving a car, which leads to a pair of Amusing Injuries moments when he runs into a lot of cold as he's going over the Rockies (which leads to him putting his face to his bike's exhaust to get warm) and a sandstorm in the Nevada Desert (which tears all of his clothes off).
  • Badass Driver: Franco was hired by Smith for his reputation as one.
  • Ax-Crazy: Subverted. When Franco arrives on the day of the race, Bannon cracks jokes about him, then about Franco's mother. Franco goes full on Italian rage, screaming at the top of his lungs at Bannon over the insult, before pulling a pistol out of a bag like a mafioso and threatening Bannon with it., while Bannon looks on in Dull Surprise. Subverted when Franco pulls the trigger and reveals its a realistic-looking water pistol that he proceeds to spray Bannon and Graves with. He does the same trick on a jalopy driver who wronged them when they track him down towards the end of the film.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Bit failed because it's obvious it's a film about racing, but still the opening Avengers Assemble sequence makes it look like Bannon is bringing the drivers together for a heist ("ladies and gentlemen, you have been selected because you have the necessary skills. You are here because you have the determination to succeed...") and then clarifies that it's for a race ("...just a few magic hours flat-out against the red line, with no catalytic converter, and no 55-mile an hour speed limit! Ladies and gentlemen, the Gumball Rally has begun!")
  • Beat Them at Their Own Game: At one point, Bannon and Smith manage to screw over Roscoe by driving straight towards a massive roadblock he set at exactly fifty-five miles per hour. Because they are not speeding, the other policemen decide they're not committing a crime and let them pass.
    Bannon: How inadequate.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: Full of useless cops and casual crime — Roscoe is robbed by a random mugger, the cop who picks him up when he calls for someone to pick him up is on a first-name basis with a crazy flasher that gets in their way, and the Sergeant that drives him to the airport makes very gleefully clear that now that the racers and Roscoe are not in the city, he could give less of a shit.
  • Butt-Monkey:
    • Lt. Roscoe is constantly humiliated by various setbacks and the racers constantly getting away from him no matter how many cops he tosses at them.
    • Lapchick spends the whole film bug-eyed over his various crashes and the fact he is Exposed to the Elements because he is driving a motorcycle leads to a couple of embarrassing moments (he is nearly frozen solid driving through thje Rockies and stripped nearly-naked by a sandstorm).
  • Candid Camera Prank: Inverted. The Dodge police cruiser team gets an Arizona state trooper to believe that they are filming a movie from a camera hidden on a far-away peak, and ask him to hold still for a face shot, as they make their getaway.
  • Car Meets House: The "no-stops" van team swerves out of the road to try to escape a flaming Vapor Trail and crash the van right into a fireworks factory. Lapchick's bike gets to meet a billboard and a very tall tree.
  • Car Skiing: The Camaro pulls this stunt to try to get past an L.A. traffic jam. It doesn't work; the driver loses control and rolls the car.
  • Cool Bike: Lapchick the Mad Hungarian is the only racer to try the Rally on a bike, and he brings along a nice Kawasaki crotch-rocket for the deed. Pity that it becomes a Chronically Crashed Bike. The biker gang that molest Jose and Angie at one point also being the standard collection of hogs.
  • Cool Car: Several. Even The Alleged Car among the contestants gets cool points by virtue of being a Jaguar.
  • Cool Old Guy: Two in this case courtesy of the Mercedes team.
  • Crazy-Prepared:
    • Bannon calls Smith a "schemer" early in the film, and it shows. He hired one of the best race drivers in the world, his support crew, and pre-arranged refueling and maintenance stops alongside his racing route, including one inside of a rolling truck that helps them also get across a roadblock. The biggest obstacle to his victory is not having the entire police force of the country out to get him, but his driver (Franco) being an impulsive horn-dog.
    • The Porsche 911 team also are this: they spend a big part of their screen time talking about being ready for the race in such ways as checking out in a computer (in The '70s!) traffic and weather conditions, check that they know the CB lingo, and such. The Porsche's engine blows out somewhere in Colorado and must accept the help of a pair of good ol' boys that were chasing them because they flirted with them, and one of the girls gets a quick bout of Love at First Sight and has sex with the guys in the field as the car's being fixed.
  • Crying Wolf: After the first time Kandinsky and Avila manage to swindle Preston and Gibson to pull over because they are driving in a fake police car, the latter two think that a second patrol car that asks them to pull over while driving through Arizona is the other racers and keep speeding... and then they figure out that it's an actual police car and floor it. The real police car's engine eventually explodes from the strain of the chase, allowing Preston and Gibson to escape. Ironically, Kandinsky and Avila are driving right behind that patrol car and the policeman, believing them to be fellow cops, orders them to continue the pursuit.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: "Emergency Plan Alpha" is a very sexy blonde who distracts Franco into pulling over and letting Bannon win the race.
    • Played with earlier in the film when Franco encounters a beauty in a Mercedes (Collen Camp) at a gas station. He refuses to leave with Smith until he's bedded her, prompting Smith to drive off and leave Franco behind. We later find out that Franco timed the assignation and thanks to the speed and driving of the woman, she catches back up to Smith and he hops from convertible to convertible to rejoin Smith and the race.
  • Don't Look Back: Played for laughs.
    Franco: And now, my friend, the first-a rule of Italian driving: [breaks off the rear-view mirror and throws it away] whats-a behind me is not important!
  • Down L.A. Drain: The film climaxes with a race down the concrete L.A. River channel between Bannon's Cobra and Smith's Ferrari.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: One entry disguises their car as a police cruiser, complete with magnetic door decals for every state they'll be passing through.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Lapchick the Mad Hungarian. Literally. Franco, to a lesser extent. Also Ace "Mr. Guts" Preston and his assistant Gibson in the Camaro Z-28, toward the end, as Gibson tries to get through a traffic jam by going up on two wheels (while giving a rebel yell).
  • Driving into a Truck: At one point, Smith demonstrates how Crazy-Prepared he is by having his support team helping him use this ploy to evade a police roadblock and make a pit stop.
  • Dudley Do-Right Stops to Help: The car disguised as a police cruiser (driven by police officers) loses the race when it stops to help a pregnant lady giving birth while stuck on an L.A. freeway.
    Kandinsky: Oh, no. Avila, no way. I don't wanna hear it, Avila.
    Avila: "To serve and to protect", huh?
  • Epic Race: From one coast to the other, non-stop and in open defiance of the national speed limits.
  • Funny Foreigner: Lapchick, Franco. And the British Benz team.
  • Good Ol' Boys: The Camaro Z28 team (but especially Gibson, who hollers rebel yells as loudly as Gary Busey is capable of). Also the Arizona state trooper.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Ace "Mr. Guts" Preston just seems militantly determined to be angry all of the time. Some of it may be put at the feet of his mechanic Gibson being a bit of a dumbass, but only just.
  • Hero's Classic Car: Bannon's Shelby Cobra vs. Smith's top-of-the-line Ferrari.
    Smith: So Mike... what is this, a vintage car event?
    Bannon: Well Smitty, you know some things get meaner as they get older.
  • Here We Go Again!: At the very end of the film, Bannon once more says "Gumball" to trigger a new race back to New York.
  • Hot-Blooded: Franco's entire motivation.
  • Humiliation Conga: Roscoe's begins with him getting his stakeout car sabotaged by Bannon so he can't warn the NYPD that the racers are off or blockade their start himself, then he has his luggage, money and pants stolen a random New York City mugger, and then he's humiliated in front of every law enforcement group he liaisons with from coast to coast. The film leaves in the air whether or not him telling Bannon and Smith that he's done and he's gonna quit being a cop at the end is for real or just a bluff to buy time for the racers' cars to be towed away. Of course, then his victory is short-lived because Bannon and Smith immediately start another Gumball Rally, just one heading back to New York...
  • Impersonating an Officer: Kandinsky and Avila (the Dodge Polara team) disguises their car and themselves as policemen from every state they pass in order to keep the cops away. For further irony, they are actual cops (from L.A.) At one point, the both of them discuss the pros and cons of this idea by pointing out that a police car roaring down the street with lights on parts traffic "like Moses at the Red Sea", but if any cops catch them there is going to be a gigantic shit-storm falling on their heads. And sure enough, the cop that pulls them over even accuses them of doing this with these exact words and looks pissed.
  • Imposter Forgot One Detail: Kandinsky and Avila's plan to disguise themselves and their patrol car to look like the police of every state they pass hits a snag when an Arizona patrolman notices that the car they are using does not looks at all like the one the Arizona police uses (as can be seen in this picture (the fake patrol car is on the front), it has different color, different light bar and is missing the bullbar — or as the officer calls it, "a funny-looking police car") and pulls them over. They end up having to pretend on the fly that they are part of a film crew to avoid being arrested.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: Largely averted. Roscoe pursues the racers from coast to coast with the help of local law enforcement, despite not having any jurisdiction.
  • Justice by Other Legal Means: Roscoe is completely unable to stop the race and gets quite the Humiliation Conga from trying, but he gets a (temporal) last laugh by asking the rules in the Queen Mary parking lot to be changed so he can have all of the cars towed for illegal parking while everybody's celebrating.
  • Large Ham: Raúl Juliá's character, Italian race driver Franco Bertollini.
  • Latin Lover: Franco. He gets laid twice during the film, considers getting laid more important than racing (this one is more detrimental for Smith than he really wanted it to be in the final act), and has a weird fetish of doing motor sounds and driving a Hotwheels car over his lover's body when he's having sex.
  • Leitmotif: Lapchick is the only racer who gets one. It's a funny tuba tune. Roscoe gets a Dragnet-esque march.
  • Left the Background Music On: As part of Franco Bertollini's Establishing Character Moment, we see him in a hotel room in bed with a woman right after arriving on the country and the night before the rally, with "Santa Lucia" playing on the background. As he gives his grand farewell to the woman, we find out that Franco hired a small band and that it has been standing on the corridor this whole time.
  • Made of Iron: Lapchick the Mad Hungarian gets in several massive motorcycle crashes throughout the film and he carries on.
  • Metallicar Syndrome: Pretty much every car. Justified because only exotics can perform the balls-to-the-wall racing the rally is all about (the film was made right in the middle of the 55 MPH limit era and all of the engine downgrades that it involves).
  • My Little Panzer: Franco's super-realistic water pistol. He twice manages to scare someone by making him think that he's going to shoot them before squirting them in the face.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The Arizona state trooper who Kandinsky and Avila put one over on looks a little like (and talks exactly like) Henry Fonda.
  • "No Rules" Racing: Being an unofficial, underground race, there's no governing body saying what the racers can and cannot do. Jose wasn't even invited to the race, but no one can stop them from participating because, "This whole race is unofficial, so I'm as unofficial as you are."
  • Police Are Useless: Zig-zagged with Roscoe being a very driven officer of the law and most of the other officers that try to arrest the racers being useless (or at least way over their head), and there's the NYPD and the Jerkass sergeant who serves as a liaison for Roscoe who are very happy to tell them all "good riddance".
  • Quintessential British Gentleman: The crew of the Mercedes-Benz 300SL.
    Andy McAllister: Sedately, Barney, as befits our years and station in life.
    [Barney squeals tires as they leave the parking lot]
  • Red Baron: Lapchick and Ace "Mr. Guts" Preston are the only characters with nicknames, but Lapchick's "Mad Hungarian" moniker is the only one that gets mentioned repeatedly.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: A light-hearted version with a roadster-driving Jerkass who scams money out of both Smith and Roscoe to drive the runners into a police trap. Smith and Bannon catch up to him a few minutes after they dodge the roadblock and take back all of the money and rip the steering wheel out of the man's roadster, leaving him stranded in the middle of the desert (and Franco squirts him with his water pistol after making the man believe that he was going to be blown away for his betrayal).
  • Rhetorical Question Blunder: After Roscoe is humiliated in front of the biggest bunch of cops he wrangled to create a roadblock (because Bannon and Smith, the two men that Roscoe really wants to arrest, got past it by driving at exactly fifty-five MPH), he pitifully looks up at the sky and asks "why me?"
    Patrolman: Because you're an asshole, Roscoe, that's why!
    [Roscoe reacts stupefied for a second, like he'd actually been answered by God, before looking to his side]
  • Right Under Their Noses: One of the teams (Smith and Franco) evades a roadblock by driving into the empty trailer of a moving semi and having the semi transport them beyond it. Roscoe catches wise, but Smith and Franco get out and drive off before Roscoe catches back up to the truck which now has a wall of empty boxes covering up the trick..
  • Running Gag: Several. Lapchick's craziness, Franco's womanizing, the Rolls-Royce...
  • Rule of Cool: At the beginning of the film, it's made very clear that this is a standard rally race with staggered start times (albeit in tiny, 10-second intervals). In other words, they're technically racing against the clock, not against each other. At the end of the race this is conveniently forgotten as the Ferrari and Cobra (which were only separated by one interval) race to get to the finish line first, because it's more fun to watch cars race each other than the clock.
  • Rule of Three: While the rest of the race is going on, we get three cut-aways to the Jaguar team stranded in the starting line over on New York. The last time we see them, it's been 12 In-Universe hours since the race started and they still haven't been able to get the damned car started, so they call it quits.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Beautiful!: The Porsche 911 team relies on their feminine wiles to evade speeding tickets (or to get whatever else they need during the race). It also works quite well - repeatedly - on the Good Ol' Boys team in the Camaro Z28.
  • Sequel Hook: After Roscoe impounds most of the cars, Michael and Smith decide to run another race immediately. To make it official, Michael even whispers "Gumball" to Sam.
  • Show Some Leg: Bannon's final gambit to win the race involves placing a very curvy blonde right in the path of Franco. It works.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: The 911 Porsche team loses time twice because men chase after them and force them to pull over to flirt with them. The first time (the girls tried to outrace them and the car's engine malfunctioned), the men were nice enough to fix it for them. The second time is a bit more unfortunate: they make it within minutes of getting to the finish line but they end up arriving at night because of a pair of highway patrolmen.
  • Standard Police Motto: Avila quotes it as the reason they (in the disguised police cruiser) had had to stop and help a stranded pregnant motorist. Justified in that they were real police officers in Los Angeles (and within their jurisdiction) at the time.
  • Super Ringer: Franco Bertollini is mentioned by Bannon to be one of the best racers in the world, and was hired by Smith to be his driver in the Rally.
  • Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: The main racers are literally on a first name basis with their dogged pursuer.
  • Take That!: The production company approached Jaguar to provide a car for the film, but the company refused. So, the makers bought their own Jaguar to use in the film. The car fails to start.
  • Tempting Fate: The Porsche team flirts with a pair of cowboys in Colorado and race off with them in pursuit, saying that if they can catch them, they can have them. A few minutes later, the Porsche's engine blows out, letting the cowboys catch up to them. The cowboys are nice enough guys to help fix the car, and one of the girls gets Love at First Sight and has sex with one of them in the meanwhile.
  • There Are No Rules: Smith makes clear at the beginning that aside from whoever arrives first and in the shortest time being declared the winner, there are no rules to the Gumball Rally. And he exploits this to the fullest.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Roscoe actually manages to beat the racers in the end, by tricking them into parking illegally so their vehicles will get impounded.
  • Toll Booth Antics: The Preston/Gibson team wastes time in a toll booth in New York because Gibson screws up tossing a nickel into the booth's receptacle, then steps out of the Camaro and starts to look all over for the fallen coin, then Preston angrily drives to the side of the road to wait for him and the way he does so brings the attention of a policeman and they presumably waste a lot of time dealing with him because the next scene has Preston being so determined to not stop that he forces Gibson to take a leak in a bottle.
  • Toyota Tripwire: Lapchick gets doored by a random motorist at one point.
  • Vapor Trail: Happens accidentally to one team of racers (the van entirely filled with fuel so they wouldn't have to stop to refuel) thanks to some jackass that tosses his cigarette away after his car dropped its exhaust pipe and damaged the underside of the van.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: There was a trans-continental underground race that rebelled against the 55 MPH limit, which ironically was the true Cannonball Run.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Bannon and Smith have been trying to outdo each other since childhood.
  • The Voiceless: Lapchick, the "Mad Hungarian," who becomes Suddenly Speaking in the film's very last gag, as he loses control of his bike (yet again) and plunges into the water alongside the Queen Mary:
  • Wacky Racing: It's a comedy, and most of the cast is spread amongst the racing teams. Also, all strategies are accepted, and among the more notable of these are a pair of off-duty policemen who disguise themselves as policemen of every state they pass through and a crew in a van modified to hold enough gas to race truly non-stop through the country (although that one ended in some explosive mishaps).
  • Wacky Wayside Tribe: A biker gang harasses Jose and Angie in one scene, and for a couple of minutes it becomes a Lighter and Softer biker exploitation film.
  • Walking Swimsuit Scene: Angie spends several scenes wearing an American flag bikini top.
  • Watch the Paint Job: One person enters the race by getting a job delivering a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow to Los Angeles. It doesn't end well. Especially after the sandstorm. Jose finally wrecks the car when he punts it in anger at the parking spot of its film executive owner and it goes rolling down a hill and hits a truck.
  • Weapon for Intimidation: Hot-blooded Franco pulls a gun from a paper bag and threatens another driver with it. It turns out it's a squirt gun, and the whole thing was a gag.
  • Wearing a Flag on Your Head: Angie spends most of the film wearing an American flag bikini top with jeans.
  • Wet Blanket Wife: Jose's girlfriend Angie spends the whole film whining that she didn't want to be part of the race and nagging him about going back to New York, or just stopping the car so she can get out and go back on her own, even when they're in the literal middle of the country (and at one point even makes him lose control of the Rolls-Royce by giving him a Dope Slap, which causes a multiple-car pile-up).