No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: ‘Cannonball Run II’

Copyright HAG ?2008

I remember almost renting “Cannonball Run II” on VHS from Nino’s TV and Video in Thousand Oaks when I was a kid. I enjoyed the first “Cannonball Run” movie a lot and watched it many times, and these days I rate it as an Ultimate Rabbit guilty pleasure. But when I presented it to my dad as the movie I wanted to rent for the weekend, he looked at me and said, “Are you sure you want to rent this? It’s really awful.” This shook my courage in renting movies for a time as I began to doubt my taste in film. As a result, I put this one back on the shelf even though its poster looked ever so cool.

Well, while my dad’s pleas failed to keep me from renting the Clint Eastwood comedy “Every Which Way But Loose,” it did keep me from checking out “Cannonball Run II” for many years. But at a time when I should have been watching such films as “Tar,” “The Banshees of Inisherin” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” I found myself watching this 1984 sequel as it was available to view for free on You Tube (with ads of course). And though I was not expecting a good movie in the slightest, I was stunned at just how amazingly atrocious this follow up was as everyone involved cannot even bother to give the proceedings a mere 50% of their energies.

This sequel starts off with the Sheik Abdul ben Falafel (Jamie Farr) being berated by his father (played by Ricardo Montalban) for losing the Cannonball Run race last year. Having embarrassed the Falafel family (you read that family name correctly), Abdul’s father orders him to win another Cannonball Run in order to restore the family name. The problem is, there is no Cannonball Run race happening that year, so Abdul is told to buy one, and the grand prize is a million dollars.

From there, “Cannonball Run II” begins its arduous task of reintroducing characters from the original as well as introducing a whole bunch of new ones who could only dream of being as funny as Roger Moore was when he played  Seymour Goldfarb, Jr. In fact, Hal Needham, who returns to direct this misbegotten sequel, spends more time with these characters than he does with the race itself.

Burt Reynolds is back as J.J. McClure, and he looks like he can save this motion picture with his charisma and sexy mustache. Dom DeLuise also returns as J.J.’s partner Victor Prinzi and his alter ego of Captain Chaos. These two always look to be having the time of their lives when they work together, but the fun they have does not translate over to the audience as it did for me in the original. This is especially the case when you watch the outtakes which play over the end credits, and you wonder what made the cast enjoy themselves endlessly as their laughter speaks more of a desperation to make this sequel worth watching.

When it comes to racing partnerships, there are a few changes. Jackie Chan is joined this time in his Mitsubishi car by Richard Kiel who plays his driver, Arnold. Doctor Nikolas Van Helsing (Jack Elam), J.J. and Victor’s partner in crime previously, is now working with Sheik Abdul to keep his ulcer in check. And Susan Anton and Catherine Bach are here to replace Tara Buckman and Adrienne Barbeau as those sexy women behind the wheel of a Lamborghini. Still, as Snake Plissken kept saying in “Escape From L.A.,” the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In directing “Cannonball Run II,” I had to wonder what was going through Needham’s mind. Was he just telling a cast which included Shirley McClaine, Dean Martin, Marilu Henner, Sammy Davis Jr., and Tony Danza among others to just go out there and be funny? If so, it did not work to anyone’s advantage as everyone looks to be either phoning it in or trying way too hard to put a smile on our faces. And if you thought the stunts from the original were lacking, the ones here are generic and pedestrian at best.

The only decently funny moment for me was at the beginning with Ricardo Montalban who plays his role as if he is not in on the joke in the slightest. Heck, he even makes the word falafel sound vaguely amusing in a way Bill O’Reilly only thinks he can. Perhaps if the rest of the cast had followed suit, this sequel might have been slightly better than it ever could have hoped to be.

I also keep thinking Needham and company kept looking at this sequel and its making to where he believed he could solve anything and everything in post. There’s a subplot involving mobsters which goes nowhere and has actors like Abe Vigoda being cast just for old time’s sake. And, yes, there is an orangutan driving a car, but he can only hope to be as memorable as Clyde was in “Every Which Way But Loose.”

So much time is spent on such overly broad character moments that Needham and his collaborators kept forgetting there was a long-distance race involved in this movie’s plot. As a result, they brought in Ralph Bakshi to animate the race’s climax in order to give it some momentum, but it doesn’t do much to speed things up, especially after a cameo with Frank Sinatra who plays himself. And yes, it is ever so easy to tell that Sinatra filmed his scenes in a studio by his lonesome. Not once do we see him and actors Reynolds, DeLuise and others in the same scene together.

“Cannonball Run II” will at best be remembered as a footnote in history for the following reasons: it marked Frank Sinatra’s final role in a theatrical motion picture, it is the final action stunt comedy for Reynolds following such films as “Smokey and the Bandit” and “Hooper” among others, it was the last film for Dean Martin, Molly Picon and Jim Nabors who is essentially parodying his character of Gomer Pyle. Other than that, this one is a certifiable waste of 108 minutes out of your life.

What is my excuse for wasting my precious time with “Cannonball Run II?” I will treat that as a rhetorical question. Still, its poster does looks really cool.

½* out of * * * *

Gualala Video – The Last Store of Its Kind

Photo courtesy of The Press Democrat.

Blockbuster Video never opened a store in the small town of Gualala, California. Hollywood Video never did either, and Redbox never bothered to put any kiosks up at either of the two supermarkets there. Now a lot of this may have to do with Gualala having a population of around 2,000, and it is never quick to let many corporate giants like Wal-Mart into town as they love their mom-and-pop shops. But seriously, the real reason none of them set up shop here was because of Gualala Video which is, quite frankly, my favorite video store on the face of the earth. This store had over 27,000 titles to choose from on DVD, Blu-ray and VHS, and looking at the many selections made me happy I still own a VCR after all these years. If they didn’t have what you were looking for, then it was never made into a movie or television show in the first place.

Photo by Wayne Moore
Photo by Wayne Moore

But sadly, Gualala Video is now closed. Despite having survived the streaming wars and Blockbuster Video, it fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic which seems never ending. While David Bradbrook, who has owned the store since 2003, did what he could to keep business going like offering curbside rentals, the rent and the overhead became too much for anyone to deal with. One big fan of the store did create a GoFundMe page in an effort to raise $5,000 to help David out, and while they have since raised over $3,100, it was not enough to prevent the inevitable.

Photo by The Ultimate Rabbit

Now the store closed some time ago, but I was in Gualala recently for the Thanksgiving holiday and it marks the first time I have seen it completely empty. There are some remnants like the store’s name on one of the doors and some stickers no one was able to completely remove. But to look inside this store and see everything gone really haunted me. Seriously, it had everything and anything you were looking for and then some. What is David planning to do with all these titles? Hopefully he has enough room for them at home.

Like another long-lost video store, Rocket Video in Los Angeles, California, Gualala Video had its movies arranged in categories such as by actor, director, and genres like science-fiction. My dad really loved the foreign section which contains films like “A Prophet,” and it had just about every Lars Von Trier movie you would ever want to bring a box of Kleenex to.

Here are some other categories movies were listed under (thanks to John Beck for the following photos):

Sometimes I didn’t even go in there to rent anything; I just went inside to look around and see what was available. Other times, I went in there to see what they didn’t have so I could ask David why this was the case. Like I said they had everything. David has said a lot of people did the same thing to where he wishes he had charged admission just to enter. Hey, Blockbuster would have done the same if it could, especially after their late fee charges were done away with.

If it wasn’t for Gualala Video, I am convinced I would not have seen certain movies for many more years. One of John Carpenter’s earliest works was his 1976 action thriller “Assault on Precinct 13” which he made before “Halloween,” and I could not find it anywhere. Not even another video chain which has long since been put out of business, Take One Video, had a single copy of it which stunned me. Gualala Video, however, did have a copy, and I did not hesitate in renting it right away. If not for this, I would have had to wait for the DVD release which would not happen for at least another five more years. Oh, by the way, “Precinct 13” was awesome and still holds up.

Then there was when my brother and I rented “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Neither of us had ever watched it before, and the manager looked at the VHS box and said:

“Man! We’ve made over $1,000 dollars off of this one video!”

“We’ve never actually seen it,” my brother said.

A blond teenage girl standing next to us was quick to reply:

“YOU’VE NEVER SEEN IT??!! WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN???!!!!”

Having now watched “Willy Wonka,” I can clearly see why this particular VHS tape was so popular as there are few family movies quite like this one, and I still wonder how it managed to get away with a G rating despite the scary boat tunnel scene which featured an image of a chicken getting its head cut off.

The last time I was there, I rented not one but two films: “John Wick Chapter Two” and “Everybody Wants Some.” Now these were two flicks I should have watched when they arrived at my local multiplex, but work at the time prevented me from doing so. But seeing them on the shelf in Gualala made me realize I had put off seeing them long enough. “John Wick Chapter Two” showed how Keanu Reeves can handle knives and guns better than any other actor in Hollywood, and “Everybody Wants Some,” Richard Linklater’s spiritual sequel to “Dazed and Confused,” made me wish I experienced my high school and college years in the same way he did.

And now Gualala Video is gone forever, and I cannot help but feel sad. It was one of the last of its kind, and there are probably none of them left (not in the East Bay anyway). Independent stores like these are wonderfully unique to where we don’t know what we will do without them. Personally, I can live without Blockbuster Video as its extinction was not a loss. While they had many copies of the newest releases, finding older films was ridiculously difficult. As for its dedication to providing a family friendly environment devoid of any movies rated NC-17, this did not stop them from putting exploitation flicks like “Stripped to Kill” on a shelf right near the children’s section.

This store was a film buff’s dream. You could discover those out-of-print videos and discs which were so hard to find, and no film had to be edited down to an R rating just to qualify as a rental. It is places like Gualala Video which made me remember how much I love movies, how wondrous they can be, of all the ones I still need to catch up on. Now, I can only hope and pray they are available to stream, and not everything is available to stream.

Nick Nolte once said there will always be change and there will always be resistance to change. While change is inevitable, there has got to be a way to preserve certain independent stores like this one. If Barnes & Noble’s annual 50% off Criterion Collection discs sale proves anything, it is that we are far from done with physical media.

And with that, I leave you all with a comment Stacy G. left on the store’s Yelp page:

“If I could burn down my local Blockbuster and replace it with Gualala Video, it would be a dream come true.”

Granted, Blockbuster Video is long gone but, all the same, amen!

Photo by The Ultimate Rabbit