FOOTAGE FETISHES: THE PASSION OF HAL NEEDHAM

“I’d rather be…Captain USA!”
If rural folk were happy that “Smokey and the Bandit” gave voice to their dreams of sticking it to The Man by driving real fast, then “The Cannonball Run” probably caused rectums across this great nation to spontaneously prolapse. Where “Smokey” had a Trans Am, “Cannonball” has a Ferrari, a Lamborghini, an Aston-Martin, a monster truck, some weird Subaru prototype, and an ambulance, among others. Take all that and mix it up with a cast that wouldn’t have looked too out of place in “Battle of the Network Stars” (Bert Convy? Mel Tillis?), and you’ve concocted the biggest high speed, self-congratulatory Hollywood establishment circle jerk since Milton Berle stopped making movies.
But wait a second, here. Maybe we’re being too dismissive of the intellectual underpinnings of Needham. After all, wasn’t it David Hume who told us that the pursuit of intellectualism and sentimentalism alone didn’t paint the whole portrait of human experience? Isn’t this cross-country race just one way in which Needham equates crossing the finish line with Hume’s goal of attaining the prize of true metaphysics, and thereby learning something useful about human nature?
Nah, Hume was probably full of shit, for “Cannonball Run” lacks even the rice paper-thin plot of “Smokey and the Bandit.” Needham throws together his collection of almost B-listers (Reynolds hadn’t been a top draw in years, and Fawcett leaving “Charlie’s Angels” to further her career was right out of the McLean Stevenson playbook), slumming Rat Packers (not that Martin and Davis had been lighting up Hollywood recently, of course), and assorted “Love Boat” regulars (Bert Convy, Jamie Farr, and Adrienne Barbeau) to distract the audience from the fact that the folds in their cerebral cortices are actually smoothing over. Other than that…Farrah’s hot, I guess (I was always more of a Jaclyn Smith guy). As far as cheesecake goes, I thought the Catherine Bach-Susan Anton combo in “Cannonball 2” blew Barbeau and Tara Buckman away.
Oh, and casting Jackie Chan (who is Chinese) as a Japanese celebrity was very droll.
The highlight of the film, if one can call it such, is Dom DeLuise as Victor, AKA Captain Chaos. Without DeLuise (and at least a 12-pack of beer), I’m not sure I could’ve sat through “Cannonball Run” as many times as I have. Whether he’s saving dogs as Captain Chaos (Is he woman? Is he man? Is he something that you’ll never understand?) or getting bitch-slapped by Burt Reynolds in the closing credits, watching DeLuise is akin to chewing on your toenails: it’s socially repugnant and if your loved ones ever found out they’d stage an intervention, but it’s satisfying in a deliciously dirty way.
“Cannonball Run” – a movie standing at the precipice of the ‘80s. The Brat Pack had yet to leave its slime trail across Hollywood, and the stars of the 1960s and ‘70s were having one last hurrah of brainless excess before the AIDS epidemic and the Moral Majority made us all feel bad about feeling good.
The story continues in part four of FOOTAGE FETISHES: THE PASSION OF HAL NEEDHAM>>>




Posted on April 6, 2004 in Features by
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