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Total Crap60%

1 review, 4 user ratings

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by Jack Sommersby

"More Like 'Softball'"
1 stars

One of those movies you pop into the DVD player hoping for a great undemanding six-pack viewing only to be brought up short by all the uninpsired insipidity.

Paul Bartel's car-racing picture Cannonball pales by considerable comparison to his futuristic car-racing picture from just the year before, Death Race 2000, which, unlike this pallid cinematic endeavor, had some witty dark satire, inventive chases, good gore and nudity, and colorful characters who kept our attention from start to finish. Legendary B-movie producer Roger Corman financed both, and he needn't have, for this is just a pale PG-rated retread without much in the way of energy or wit -- it's a by-the-numbers product desperately trying to cash in on what interest is left in cars speeding and crashing and speeding and crashing and, well, you get the general idea. Bartel co-wrote the screenplay with Don Simpson (who penned the third-rate Bonnie and Clyde ripoff Aloha, Bobby and Rose), and they've greatly succeeded in failing to come up with a single interesting character or ingenious scene; this tale about an illegal, kept-secret car race with a one-hundred-thousand-dollar cash prize starting in Santa Monica and ending in New York City has all the panache of an industrial-training video for all its creative bankruptcy. In DR2000, David Carradine starred as the infamous, disfigured ace driver Frankenstein who wore a black mask and black gloves; here he plays the non-eccentric, non-exciting figure Coy "Cannonball" Buckman, a former racing pro on parole ever since a young woman died in car he was racing in. He joins the race with his souped-up, bright-red Trans Am, and he's being heavily backed by his conniving older brother who's put a lot of money on the race with a powerful mobster -- to ensure his investment, this sibling has hired a stooge to sabotage the other drivers along the way by way of explosive detonators and a high-powered rifle. The contestants also include: a trio of foxy females in a blue panel van; a young black man in a new-model Lincoln that he's supposed to be doing a drive-away in to its rightful owners waiting in New York; a wacky German in a dark-green Maserati; a good-natured young couple in daddy's sleek light-blue Corvette; and Cannonball's arch-nemesis in a black muscle car with a third-rate country singer and his manager broadcasting musical numbers in the back seat along the way (don't ask) -- none of whom, and none of whom combined, has so much as an iota of the wicked charm of Frankenstein's arch-nemesis Machine Gun Joe Viterbo, who Sylvester Stallone (who has a worthless brief cameo here) played with undiluted, animalistic aplomb.

Say what you will about this undemanding subgenre in general -- mainly, that it's not reliant on complexity or narrative soundness -- but it does need people behind the wheel who can warrant screen time. We couldn't care less about the secondary players, or the primary ones, either -- a sleepwalking Carradine keeps trying to emit an understated magnetism that never materializes and goes up with the gas fumes, and speaks his lines with a beat-out inertness that's more audience-wearying than world-weary. And the writing is really haphazard. The race is supposed to be covering a span of a few days, but Bartel gives us neither geographical clarity, so we could keep lucid track of where exactly the racers are in relation to one another (it's not just what state they're in that's not clear, but what region of the country), nor a sensible sense of immediacy, for we're baffled why some of the drivers stop off at certain places along the way and converse as if they had all the time in the world (I've chatted up women in less time than the characters take here to contemplate having repairs done on their autos). In a typical bit, someone will change a tire yet miraculously manage to catch up with a contestant in just a short while, or we're really thrown for a loop when a contestant's car blows up and in the very next scene someone on an airplane is holding up a newspaper with a headline of a story of the demise of the very same car and driver, as if it had happened the day before and not a few minutes earlier as has been depicted. Suffice to say, it's not particularly hard to have a growing contempt for Bartel, who clearly doesn't give a damn about even the most basic rudiments of story consistency -- he comes off as a snide egotist who thinks he's too good to adhere to semblances of internal logic. (There's one neat bit involving a jump having to be halted at the last second due to the end of a guitar getting stuck under a gas pedal, but that's it.) Maybe we'd be willing to cut the movie some slack if the action sequences were up to par, but they're not: the juxtaposing and staging are lackluster to the extreme, consisting of either too many close-ups of one vehicle ramming another or a way-too-barren highway with not enough traffic (as if the race were happening on the far side of the moon) where a vehicle will explode all of a sudden. Cannonball isn't substantial enough to be offensive, but it is startlingly inept and insipid. If DR2000's Frankenstein were Mary Shelley's creation, he'd have smashed this monstrosity to smithereens out of sheer contempt and not bothered to ask questions later.

For fans of it, Blue Underground has given the DVD an excellent transfer and a decent amount of special features -- way better treatment than it deserves.

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originally posted: 01/05/12 11:13:45
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User Comments

5/07/14 MatthewThompsonDalldorf An often funny and action packed flick! David Carradine even does some kung fu! 4 stars
9/08/08 Charles Tatum Fun fluff 4 stars
4/27/08 mr.mike Actually liked it more than Death Race 2000 4 stars
6/28/07 David Pollastrini the best of the cross country race movies! 5 stars
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  02-Feb-1976 (PG)
  DVD: 28-Sep-2004


  02-Jul-1976 (M)

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