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The Cannonball Run is a 1981 film comedy starring Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, Dom DeLuise and Farrah Fawcett, and directed by Hal Needham. 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 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.

Tropes associated with The Cannonball Run and its sequels:

  • Actor Allusion: "We could get a black Trans-Am. Nah, it's been done."
  • 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.
  • Asskicking 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
  • Brains and Brawn: Jackie Chan's character and his new partner for the sequel, Richard "Jaws" Kiel.
  • Car Meets House
  • 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

 Dean Martin: These (Sound Effect Bleep) bleeds?

  • 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.)
  • 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
  • Everybody Remembers the Stripper: Farrah Fawcett and Adrienne Barbeau's cleavage exposing exploits.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: The second movie has an feisty orangutan as part of a team.
  • Fridge Logic: What's with the big rush at the end of the movie? It's a rally. If two or more drivers arrive at the finish line within seconds of one another, then whoever started last is pretty much going to win at that point.
  • 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?


 This cat is dead. Get me a new cat.