For a decade crippled by a gas crisis that made our current situation at the pumps seem positively benign, the 1970s sure had a lot of movies about cars, especially of the racing and crashing variety. Spurred on by the classic The Gumball Rally- itself based on the very real outlaw Cannonball cross country race -all manner of smash-em-ups began to surface, with late director Paul Bartel responsible for two of them; the notorious Death Race 2000, and the lesser known Cannonball.
David Carradine plays Coy 'Cannonball' Buckman, an ex-con hoping to win an illegal cross country auto race. Funded by his shady older brother Benny (Miller), Buckman is Benny's only hope of landing a big payday, and bets all of his money (and then some!) on his younger brother. However, Benny knows that if Coy loses, there will be hell to pay, so he makes sure Coy's opponents have the odds stacked against them with ample amounts of trickery and sabotage. Coy's opponents are of the colourful variety, including Coy's main nemesis, the sadistic greasball Redmen (McKinney), as well as a car full of surf punks, a crooning redneck, and a school bus full of wild and wiley hot chicks (led 70s cult icon, Woronov). Scattered throughout the film are cameos by Bartel's industry pals Sly Stallone, Martin Scorcese, Joe Dante, and Roger Corman, as well as a who's who of 70s cult cinema.
Filmed on the cheap, Cannonball looks as though it skirted the law as much as the race it's based on, with massive stunt sequences, high octane race scenes, and a general disregard for highway safety in general. One has to wonder how many permits Bartel ignored in getting this film made, for it's every bit as "epic" as it's bigger budget studio kin.
While Cannonball features a lot of Bartel's trademark black comedy, it's also keen on action, and grows more violent as the film moves on. It's all very tongue-in-cheek, but not as obvious as the stuff in Death Race 2000, with it bordering on semi-serious here. Still, Cannonball is a crowd pleaser and much more entertaining than Hal Needham's slapstick/stupid Cannonball Run films.
Blue Underground presents Cannonball on DVD with a very nice widescreen transfer, a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack (with optional 2.0 and original mono), interviews with Mary Woronov, Roger Corman, and David Carradine, posters and stills gallery, trailer, and more.
Fans of The Gumball Rally, Death Race 2000, and the underrated Vanishing Point will get a kick out of Cannonball. While not quite as polished as it's peers, it's still a very well made flick and entertaining as hell. And if there's a movie out there with more explosions and smashed up cars than this one, I sure as hell ain't seen it!