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The Cannonball Run


It’s the Burt that hurts.

Rod Lott October 28th, 2011

In my tween days, 1981’s “The Cannonball Run” played HBO so often, one would think the cable channel had been taken over by Dom DeLuise. My brothers and I watched it with seemingly every airing.

thecannonballrun

Now, decades later, the huge, huge box-office hit has hit Blu-ray — Blu-ray! — and although I hadn’t seen the action-comedy since junior high, it’s remarkable how much I remembered about it:
• every line and note of Ray Stevens’ cornball theme song;
• Burt Reynolds’ mugging at the fourth wall;
• DeLuise’s Captain Chaos superhero garb;
• Adrienne Barbeau’s spectacular Spandexed cleavage;
• this funny-looking fighter fellow named Jackie Chan;
• Roger Moore spoofing his James Bond self;
• M-M-M-Mel Tillis and Terry Bradshaw, this film’s Abbott and Costello, driving their car into a motel pool;
• Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., this film’s Martin and Lewis, disguised as priests and making Catholic jokes that sailed over my head;
• Jamie Farr, aka Klinger from “M*A*S*H” (then my favorite TV show), playing a (certainly offensive today) Arab sheik who admires a waitress’ breasts as he makes a milk reference;
• Farrah Fawcett, still not doing it for me (sorry, but I was a Jaclyn Smith boy)
• Bert Convy singing “I’ve Gotta Be Me” as he skydives;
• those creepy, creepy, creepy eyes of Jack Elam; and
• cars I would never be able in my wildest dreams to afford.

With all that, what’s more remarkable is what I failed to remember:
• how utterly stupid it is: so stupid, it’s stoopid.

And yet, it retained an undeniable magnetic power as I revisited it. Like a car wreck — um, yeah — I couldn’t look away. Not only does “Cannonball Run” deplete brain cells, but it harms Blu-ray technology, too, threatening to downgrade your player into ye olde DVD.

Speaking of, here’s an argument against beyond-VHS technology: commentary from director Hal Needham. The guy sounds like one of those overly friendly cashiers who wish to engage you in conversation about the weather or a goiter or what-have-you. He and producer Albert S. Ruddy (“The Godfather” — let that soak in for a minute) are quite chummy, but a little too close to their work, thinking it funnier than it is.

Strangely, that’s the only special feature on the disc. One wishes 1984’s “Cannonball Run II” were also present for a glutton-for-punishment double feature. Or, heck, why not a full-franchise trilogy with 1989’s abortive “Speed Zone”? Because I am a glutton for good-natured punishment. Anyone else who has “Cannonball Run” memorized can empathize, right? —Rod Lott

 
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