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  • Writer's pictureRob Freese

No Apologies- Cannonball Run II!

Cannonball Run II (1984)

It is absolutely ridiculous how much I enjoy this movie. It is a sequel to the original Cannonball Run from 1981. I am entertained by that film to a ridiculous degree also.

This is a movie of scenes. It is not really about anything. There is not a story or plot, just the idea of a race that strings together racing vignettes. Nothing builds towards anything. Nothing is about anything. Still, for an hour and forty-eight minutes, I am never bored and the screen holds my attention.

The cast is nothing short of perfection and all the usual suspects are here, starting with Burt Reynolds as wise cracking racer J.J. McClure. His partner Victor Prinzim (Dom De Luise) is always faithfully at his side. Victor bounces between two personalities, the mild mannered Prinzim and the caped superhero Captain Chaos. Captain Chaos is that reckless seven-year-old that lives in every one of us. (De Luise also plays the head of the Canneloni Family.)

Burt and Dom spend the entire movie trying to crack each other up.

They are joined by Sammy Davis, Jr. as Morris Fenderbaum and Dean Martin as Jamie Blake. They basically play Sammy Davis, Jr. and Dean Martin.

Sammy and Dean spend the entire movie trying to crack each other up.

Jamie Farr is The Sheik, who puts up the money for the race. I'm sure his portrayal is offensive to most people now, but he has some funny moments. Ricardo Montalban plays his father, The King, with the same cool authority he used to sell Chryslers on TV in the '70s.

Jack Elam is Doctor Nikolas Van Helsing, gross as ever.

Susan Anton and Catherin Bach are the Lamborghini babes Jill and Marcie.

Marilu Henner and Shirley MacLaine are the two actresses, Betty and Veronica, dressed as nuns who hitch a ride with J.J. and Vic. For those keeping score, this is the second time MacLaine has played a nun on screen that wasn't really a nun.

Jackie Chan plays Jackie Chan and his race partner Arnold is played by Richard Kiel.

Foster Brooks, Sid Caesar and Louis Nye play fisherman.

Telly Savalas is the main heavy, Hymie Kaplan. The rest of the heavies are rounded out by Abe Vigoda, Michael V. Gazzo, Alex Rocco and Henry Silva.

Don Knotts and Tim Conway play a couple of CHiPs who think they are on Candid Camera.

Jim Nabors is a Marine on leave named Pvt. Homer Lyle.

We also have Charles Nelson Riley, Arte Johnson, Chris Lemmon, Molly Picon, Joe Theisman, Mel Tillis, Tony Danza, Fred Dryer, Jilly Rizzo, George Lindsey, Dub Taylor, and Doug McClure.

And Frank Sinatra plays Frank Sinatra.

But, Rob, what's it about?

That's pretty much it. All those people in one movie, racing cars and trying to crack each other up.

Director Hal Needham keeps it on the cheap and even the race itself kind of peters off into nothing before the film is over for the opportunity to stage an elaborate Western Town Cowboy Stunt Show. But that's okay. This movie knows what it is and isn't afraid to be itself. (The best bit is the earlier stunt show where we first catch up with J.J. and Vic. I squealed with delight at its combined rambunctious idiocy and brazenness to go for cheap laughs. It got them! )

To me, there is no difference between the Cannonball Run movies (derived from director Paul Bartel's equally ridiculously entertaining Cannonball in 1976 and Charles Bail's Gumball Rally, also '76) and the current Fast and Furious flicks. You watch them the same exact way, with your brain on snooze.

Movies like Cannonball Run II are critic proof. I mean, to watch Siskel and Ebert talk about how dumb it is, it's like they're not in on the joke. It's painful. At least it makes sense when they ranted and raved about violent horror movies, but the anger in which they rip this flick apart seems like two bullies picking on a little kid. Who the hell goes to something like Cannonball Run II expecting it to be any different than what it is? Would plot have made this movie any better? Would a story have added anything? Real characters? Well, no. Then you're an entirely different movie.

I remember going to see Cannonball Run II with my brother and our best friends from up the street. I believe we saw it at our beloved .99 theater. ("All movies, all showtimes only .99!") I remember sitting there with a full crowd, realizing how dumb a movie it was, but laughing along with everyone else.

I put this movie in a group with other sequels like Meatballs II (which we saw the night before CRII! Man, that was a good weekend!) and Caddyshack II. They are not movies that are particularly good, and I'm not really fond of them, but dang it, I'm still entertained by them. I don't know how, I don't know why. They just work on some weird level separate from their originals.

Many, many years ago, in 1991 or 1992, I was at a Fangoria convention in Los Angeles. I was attending the Chainsaw Awards with one of my best pals Madman Mike, and Sam Arkoff took the stage. He spoke and mentioned that, at the time, he was talking to a studio about a possible remake of I Was A Teenage Werewolf. (Obviously, he was unaware of Full Moon High and Teen Wolf.) He made a comment and while I cannot quote it exactly, he basically said that "time dignifies everything." This got a laugh. He went on to say that IWATW was never held in high regard, but over time, a big studio was now interested in remaking it. Now it was something of value, something worth more now than when it was first released.

As I watched Cannonball Run II, I realized how true that statement is, even for a movie like Cannonball Run II. I mean now, 39 years after its release, what a wonderful treat it is to see some of these people, most who are no longer with us, appear on screen and just have a good time.

Cannonball Run II is now considered the final "Rat Pack" movie, for its appearances of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Shirley MacLaine.

It is the final feature appearance of Molly Picon. (She played Roger Moore's mother in the first Cannonball Run.)

It is the final appearance of Sinatra on the big screen. (He did some TV work after this.)

It is the final big-screen pairing of comedy duo Don Knotts and Tim Conway. (They made a bunch of movies in the '70s and '80s, and I think my mom took us to all of them. To see them on screen was overwhelming.)

It is the final big-screen pairing of Reynolds and De Luise! (How did this happen? How did these two guys not get another movie together at some point in the later '80s and the '90s?)

It is the final appearance of Tony Danza and that orangutan that causes so much destruction. (They previously starred together in 1981's Going Ape!)

The entire final race was provided by Ralph Bakshi because there wasn't money or interest left in filming the race finale itself after the wild west show. How many movies do we get anymore with Bakshi's fantastic art?

If time hasn't completely dignified the existence of Cannonball Run II, then at the very least it has elevated it to a fun, dumb curio from an era that no longer exists. (And some days it's hard to believe it ever did.)

Check out Rob's The Brain That Woudn't Die 60th Anniversary Novelization, available now at these fine retailers Abebooks Amazon Barnes & Noble Books-A-Million Half Price Books

Walmart and anywhere books are sold.

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Greg Goodsell
Greg Goodsell
Feb 12, 2023

I do believe that I was at that Fangoria convention and saw Arkoff thee as well. Those were good times.

Rob Freese
Rob Freese
Feb 12, 2023
Replying to

Indeed they were!

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