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 * * * *