The Cannonball Run is a 1981 American-Hong Kong action comedy film starring an all-star cast of Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Dom DeLuise, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Farr, Mel Tillis, Terry Bradshaw, and Jackie Chan. The film was directed by Hal Needham, produced by Albert S. Ruddy, written by Brock Yates, and distributed by 20th Century Fox. One of 1981's most successful films at the box office, it spawned two sequels: Cannonball Run II in 1984, and Speed Zone in 1989.
Race teams have gathered in Connecticut to start a cross-country car race. One at a time, teams drive up to the starters' stand, punch a time card to indicate their time of departure, then take off.
Among the teams:
- JJ McClure and Victor Prinzi drive a souped-up, but otherwise authentic, Dodge Tradesman ambulance.
- Former open-wheel icon (and Scotch-swilling) Jamie Blake and his (gambling-obsessed) teammate Morris Fenderbaum, dressed as Catholic priests, drive a red Ferrari 308 GTS 1979.
- Jill Rivers and Marcie Thatcher, two attractive women who use their looks to their advantage, start the race in a black Lamborghini Countach.
- Jackie Chan and Michael Hui race in a high-tech, computer-laden Subaru GL 4WD hatchback with a rocket booster engine.
- A pair of good ol' boys called Mel and Terry drive a street-legal replica of Donnie Allison's Hawaiian Tropic-sponsored NASCAR Winston Cup Chevrolet stock car owned by Hoss Ellington.
- Seymour Goldfarb, Jr., the "heir to the Goldfarb Girdles fortune" who perpetually identifies himself as actor Roger Moore and signs into the race under that name. His character behaves similarly to James Bond and only once (by his mother) is called by his real name. He drives a silver Aston Martin DB5.
- Sheik Abdul ben Falafel, an oil-rich Middle-Eastern sheikh, drives a white Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow.
At the starting line, observing from the shadows, is Mr. Arthur J. Foyt, a representative of the "Safety Enforcement Unit", who tries to stop the race because of its environmental effects and safety issues. In the car with Foyt is a photographer and tree lover, Pamela Glover.
Beyond the starting line, JJ and Victor (driving their ambulance) come across Foyt and Glover, who have been involved in a minor fender-bender. Glover implores JJ and Victor to help, but when they tell Foyt to enter the ambulance through the back door, they kidnap Glover and take off without Foyt.
As the race progresses, Victor occasionally turns into his alter ego, superhero "Captain Chaos". The very spooky Dr. Van Helsing and his huge hypodermic needle are also in the ambulance to "help" keep Glover quiet during the race.
Various teams are shown either evading law enforcement, most of which deal with talking their way out of a possible ticket, or concocting crazy schemes to outmaneuver their opponents.
- Jill and Marcie use sex appeal as their weapon, unzipping their race suits to display copious amounts of cleavage during traffic stops. (However, this fails to work on a busty female traffic officer.)
- In New Jersey, the ambulance is pulled over by state troopers; Dr. Van Helsing drugs Glover, and JJ and Victor are able to convince the troopers that they're rushing "the Senator's wife" to UCLA for medical treatment (offering the theory that her condition prevents them from flying, or from even driving through Denver).
- The Subaru team is able to turn off their car's headlights and use infrared sensors for racing at night.
- Seymour Goldfarb is frequently shown evading police by using various James Bond-type gadgets, such as oil slicks, smoke screens, switchable number plates installed in his Aston Martin DB5.
- Mr. Compton and "Super Chief" Finch disguise themselves as a newlywed couple on a motorcycle, but Finch's extra weight forces the two to ride cross-country in a continuous wheelie.
The primary rivalry is between the ambulance and the Ferrari. In Ohio, Fenderbaum and Blake are able to convince Victor to pull over the ambulance in order to bless the patient on board. While Blake carries out the blessing, Fenderbaum flattens one of the ambulance's rear tires. JJ gets his revenge in Missouri by convincing a nearby police officer that the two men dressed as priests are actually sex perverts who are responsible for the flashing victim in the ambulance.
The leading teams find themselves stopped on a desert highway, waiting for construction workers to clear the road. A biker gang shows up and begins harassing Compton and Finch. It quickly gets out of hand and a free-for-all fistfight ensues. "Captain Chaos" emerges again to fight the bikers. Naturally, the Subaru team also joins in (Jackie Chan puts his martial arts skills to work) and fists and kicks fly. The construction crew announces that the road is open, so teams sprint back to their cars for the race to the finish.
The ambulance falls behind the pack until Victor once again becomes Captain Chaos. The vehicles all arrive at the final destination at the same time, so it is a foot race to the finish line. JJ hands his team's time card to Victor, then ambushes the remaining racers, leaving only Victor and one of the Lamborghini women, Marcie.
Just when it appears Victor will reach the time clock first, a spectator shouts that her "baby" has fallen into the water. Victor, still in his Captain Chaos persona, rushes to save the baby (later revealed to be her dog), allowing Marcie to clock in first and win the race.
JJ is furious and never wants to see Captain Chaos again, but Victor replies that he does not care, because he really wants to be Captain USA. Foyt reappears and blames everyone for ruining the American highway. Seymour offers a cigar and tells Foyt to use the lighter in his car, which activates an ejection seat when pushed. Nothing happens at first, but when Seymour presses the button, he goes flying into the water, as the rest of the racers celebrate with champagne.
Why It Rocks
- Super-likable characters played wonderfully by a massive all-star cast.
- Great car chase scenes
- Smart humor.
- Awesome music.