This is a little bit of a cheat. Orion tried to make a third Cannonball Run movie and Burt Reynolds turned it down. Instead, they rewrote the movie and called it Speed Zone! This is not an official sequel, yet, it has been released under a number of titles since it’s arrival (released in the UK as Cannonball Fever.) However, the similarities are not to be ignored. John Candy’s character is introduced to the audience as he watches the first movie on TV, following a familiar Lamborghini chase. Confusingly, Jamie Farr returns playing the rich Sheik.
The filmmakers do their best to borrow from the formula that made the first film successful. Celebrities queue up to fill the roles and cameos. The aforementioned Lamborghini chase, for instance, has Good Ol’ Boy Dukes of Hazzard star John Schneider stepping out, an obvious nod to Catherine Bach in the second. Alyssa Milano and Lee Van Cleef pop up along with Brooke Shields who managed to make it to one of the posters for her 2 minutes of input.
Whilst not being anywhere near as much fun as the original Cannonball Run, this one maintains interest a lot longer than the second. It’s been 5 years and the writers have come up with some fresh material. Whilst the cast is hardly brilliant they are still more than competent at landing most of the gags. Having watched Cannonball Run I and II there is a lot to look at, a refresh that was very much needed, a smaller budget and exploring if there is any mileage left in the concept.
Quite a few of the characters are annoying, the Smothers Brothers for example. I’m not familiar with them and found they provided very little in the way of comedic impact. There are a few completely improbable tech gags that are thrown in as something cool in a time when the microcomputer was an exciting new development and writers didn’t quite understand what they were. Lee Van Cleef’s contribution is okay, but for a weirdly creepy, lingering shot has he turns away. I always thought it would have been a spark of brilliance had Burt Reynolds played the Lee Van Cleef role. Finally, Donna Dixon’s character needed to be left at the starting line.
There are a few winning combinations, Flaherty and Frewer are a good and provide more than their fair share of chuckles, whilst their story is uneven and a hamfisted Midnight Run knock off. Matheson and Kuzyk are quite fun with Matheson showing some shades of Otter from Animal House. Shari Belafonte and Melody Anderson as Margaret and Lea who, we presume to be the typical buxom duo, shed that image quickly and are fully reimagined. The great Peter Boyle is a huge benefit to the movie and manages to steal every scene he is in. Alyssa Milano’s cameo is a highlight with the Xenophobic car salesman and 1st Scanner Louis Del Grande.
However, the gloss just isn’t there. It all feels like it has been filmed over a couple of rainy days in Canada. There is little interaction between the Cannonballers outside of their pairings. I and II embedded fun sections to mix up the cast, having them work together to thwart an evil biker gang or some social shenanigans in a lounge prior to the race.
The magic of the stunts from the first two movies are also lost in Speed Zone! The speedier sequences are not so much race driving as sped up footage. There is a lack of memorable stunts here too, aside from a preposterous stone skipping Lamborghini and Brooke Shields’ passenger plane driving down the highway. One of the only great things about the second movie was the Cannonball theme tune, had they included it here then this would have been twice the movie.
I do think Speed Zone! is given a hard time by critics, certainly a lot doesn’t work, but there is a decent amount that does. Perhaps rewrites to change cast members and budget constraints dashed hopes of re-engaging the initial magic. Perhaps I was relieved that this wasn’t the travesty Cannonball Run II had been. Police Academy 4 director Jim Drake and writer Michael Short (SCTV) would work prominently in TV following the release of this movie.
Obviously, The Cannonball Run takes its influence from Erwin Baker and the resulting illegal race that followed his exploits. It’s core principles are from ensemble movies that have come before. It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World and The Gumball Rally are probably the biggest influences, however, it was Cannonball! (or as it is sometimes known, Carquake) that really bears the closest resemblance. In Cannonball! we have a more adult approach with quite a bit more violence. However, this film is maybe a little closer to its predecessor Death Race 2000 when it comes to violence. It certainly isn’t kiddy friendly, despite the who’s who of Police Academy supporting character actors.
There wasn’t really a Cannonball Run III. Speed Zone! is more than a tribute. The end of the 2nd movie leaves it open for more, however, I’m sure Burt and co. ran screaming from the franchise.
The Cannonball Run series is a product of the time, even during that period it could never be replicated. Of course, it is best to remember the original and forget the rest. If they return to it, they will have to modernise and probably end up with some form of lampoon of the Fast and the Furious movies.
Poster art for this movie is varied, some cobbled together for territorial releases.