Cannonball! (1976)


‘Cannonball’ is one of the least remembered of the short-lived but successful 1970s car race/car crash genre begun by ‘The Gumball Rally’. What really makes this one stand out is that it was directed by the late Paul Bartel (in between his immortal black comedy classics ‘Death Race 2000’ and ‘Eating Raoul’), and features an impressive supporting cast of cult actors and Bartel buddies. ‘Death Race 2000’s David Carradine once again stars, this time as “Cannonball” Buckman, an ex-con who desperately wants to win the illegal Trans American road race. His older brother Benny (the legendary Dick Miller) gets him set up with a car, and bets enormous sums of money on him, mainly with the eccentric but ruthless bookie and amateur songwriter Lester Marks (played by Bartel himself). If Cannonball loses Benny will enter into a world of pain, so Benny tries any and every trick he can think of to ensure Cannonball’s competitors lose. Cannonball’s main competition is the borderline psychotic Redman (‘Deliverance’s Bill McKinney), but the race also includes Cannonball’s sidekick Zippo (Archie Hahn), his parole officer girlfriend (Veronica Hammel), a bus full of babes led by frequent Bartel co-star Mary Woronov, an aspiring country singer (Gerrit Graham), and surfer types Robert Carradine and Belinda Balaski. 1970s exploitation fans will recognize these actors, and several others that make appearances throughout this stupid but fun movie, and buffs will also spot various film makers in cameos including Roger Corman, Martin Scorsese and Joe Dante. The whole thing is very incestuous and self-indulgent, but the cast looks like they’re having a lot of fun. Maybe not as much as the viewer will, but it’s still an entertaining ride if you kick back and have a beer or two when watching it.