A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Cannonball Run is one of a handful of popular comedies from the early 1980s in which irreverent daredevils on a quest try to outwit their competitors and the buffoonish law-enforcement officers who try to stop them. The movie stars Burt Reynolds and his sidekick Dom DeLuise on a cross-country auto race. Car stunts -- crashes, explosions, autos sailing through the air, high-speed chases -- provide the action. Exaggerated caricatures -- an Arab sheik, Japanese high-tech/martial-arts experts, a Jewish mother, a stutterer, good ol' boys, and plenty of curvy, dimwitted women and their barely covered breasts -- provide the humor. Profanity and slurs (i.e., "schmuck," "a--hole," "hookers," "s--t," "gang-bang"). Racial jokes are directed at an "always-the-good-sport" Sammy Davis Jr. In addition to the vehicle hijinks and sexual leering, drinking alcoholic beverages -- often to excess -- is a constant pastime for the crew. Beer is the drink of choice, and it's sometimes consumed even while the characters are at the wheels of their speeding vehicles.
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What's the story?
The race is on in THE CANNONBALL RUN! With an ambulance manned by J.J. McClure (Burt Reynolds) and Dom DeLuise's Victor (who believes he is, in fact, a superhero called "Captain Chaos") as the odds-on favorite, one- or two-person crews compete to win a cross-country car race from the West Coast to the East Coast. Among the other contestants: an Arab sheik (Jamie Farr); two big-money bettors disguised as priests (Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.): a country boy duo (Mel Tillis in "stutter" mode and Terry Bradshaw); a buxom babe with smarts (Adrienne Barbeau); a Japanese tech wizard (a high-kicking Jackie Chan); and Roger Moore in an Aston-Martin as "Roger Moore." That's it -- that's the whole plot -- complicated by stubborn highway patrolmen, the entrance of a snarky government-safety official, the pseudo kidnapping of a stereotypical blonde (Farrah Fawcett), and a bizarre hypodermic needle-wielding doctor (Jack Elam). Directed by Hal Needham, a preeminent Hollywood stunt man, it's all about the car stunts, the inside jokes, the smirks, beer, and admiration for large breasts.
Is it any good?
Hipper than hip in its time, The Cannonball Run is one of those films in which the actors and filmmakers seem to be having way more fun than their audience. There are still some laughs, especially with Burt and Dom in all-out buddy silliness, but because so much of the humor is based on outdated jokes about dumb blondes, drunkenness, and stereotypical Asians and rednecks, it may be offensive to some. The thin plot, skin-deep characters, and lack of even the flimsiest relationship between the depicted events and real life make it better viewing for those who remember it fondly than for those who're seeing it for the first time.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how attitudes about drinking alcoholic beverages and driving have changed since this movie was made. Would a movie today use driving under the influence as a comic device? How do such attitudes and changes in attitudes reflect what's acceptable in a film?
Why do audiences like movies about comic characters breaking the law and outsmarting law-enforcement officers and authority figures? Could it be said that laughing at them makes us feel more empowered? Why else might this premise be appealing?
This movie is filled with caricatures (or stereotypes). Which are still funny decades after this film was made? Which might be offensive now? Why?
- In theaters: June 19, 1981
- On DVD or streaming: June 5, 2001
- Cast: Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Dom DeLuise
- Director: Hal Needham
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Cars and Trucks, Friendship
- Run time: 96 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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