Burt can actually do something wrong. If you took out everything that was funny and original from the first one then left the resulting carcass to its own devices then you have Cannonball Run II. A low point in everyone’s career. That is A LOT of careers.
It’s quite an impressive manoeuvre to take something as light and fun as the original Cannonball Run, come up with some admittedly decent ideas and stunts, add a slew of big-ish names and still be completely devoid of fun. Of course, it seems the stars have only been coerced back for some handsome pay checks and the promise of a fun time. Those that did not come back, for example, Roger Moore, obviously felt the joke had run its course.
There is, believe it or not, a plot here. The original had no shame in proving that it was merely a concept dreamed up for the stunts. This entry shows evidence that someone was actually involved in writing something. It does not work and instead what was a well-edited collection of silly and funny sketches is now a messy narrative with terrible continuity.
Despite all that was involved, did anyone actually have sight of the script prior to signing on to appear in Cannonball Run II? Having watched it recently I had trouble putting my finger on exactly why the race was being funded by The Sheik. I had a look online at the plot description and it would appear that I was not alone. The descriptions were merely similar to “wacky characters are back, racing across the country.” I had to put the film on again to see the pre-title sequence with Ricardo Montalban giving the movie a reason to exist. The Sheik didn’t win in the first movie, bringing shame on the family, he was to go back to The United States to host another and win.
Things get a little more complicated. Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. owe Charles Nelson Reilly a large sum of money who also owes money to Telly Savalas. Charles Nelson Reilly hatches a scheme to kidnap the Sheik in an attempt to hold him ransom… and have him tickled by a … harem. The Cannonballers come to the rescue. Nonsense.
Honestly, on paper I believe this movie sounds madcap fun. However, they decided to approach this like a live action Road Runner cartoon. Yet this childish humour was mixed uncomfortably with some adult imagery. The majority of the focus was taken off Burt and Dom DeLuise and focused on a band of gangsters led by Alex Rocco, similar to the Anthill Mob.
There are any number of issues with the movie and so much of it becomes jarring. The late addition of Sinatra becomes problematic, and his cars change from shot to shot. Don Knotts and Tim Conway’s routine is painful. Molly Picton’s terrible cameo. Lydia Lei relegated to only 20 seconds! Doug McClure is in the majority of this movie and you are now saying “I forgot he was in this!” This was made the year after Shirley MacLaine’s Oscar winning role in Terms of Endearment (let’s not forget that Burt was first choice for Jack Nicholson’s role.)
And the weird decisions go on… Richard Kiel in Jackie Chan’s car. Menudo’s bizarre Like a Cannonball. The actual race being summarised in an 10 second animated segment. Shirley MacLaine and Marilu Henner just giving themselves over to Dom and Burt as love interests. This was made in between quality Jackie Chan flick Project A and The Protector.
As a kid, I saw nothing wrong with any this. I loved it, most likely due to the live action cartoon approach. Whilst this is possibly the worst film Burt has ever been attached to during his heyday I routinely lapped it up during it’s frequent TV airings. The Bandit, JJ, Hooper, and Shamus were all top of the pops with me in the 80’s. It’s hard to believe that the film received eight Golden Raspberry Award nominations in 1984 Golden Raspberry Awards and it was the last credited film role for both Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.
Cannonball Run II is the lowest point of the series. Where the first one is organized chaos, this sequel is just organized rubbish.