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Old 09-23-2004, 05:54 AM
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Default Cannonball




Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: September 22, 2004

Released by: Blue Underground
Release date: 9/28/2004
MSRP: $19.95
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.66:1 | 16x9: Yes



The exploitation genres of the 1970s had many faces. There were spaghetti westerns, zombie pictures, blaxploitation films, kung fu hit-em-ups, and even the car racing vehicle. The car derby films, whether they be demolition oriented like Death Race 2000, racing dramas like Fast Company or transcontinental racing comedies, would achieve so much success that Hollywood would go on to overtake the genre with the various Burt Reynold’s racing pictures, like the very successful Smokey and the Bandit and The Cannonball Run franchises. Showing the genre little respect, Hollywood would even go on to steal the name of the latter Reynold’s flick from the 1976 David Carradine vehicle, Cannonball. Not nearly the financial success that Death Race 2000 was, Cannonball was banished to video shelves and all but forgotten. With the rekindled interest in David Carradine after the phenomenal success of Kill Bill, his earlier films are now in great demand, and Blue Underground has answered with a new DVD of Cannonball Light the fuse, let’s fire this one up.

The Story

inline Image Coy ‘Cannonball’ Buckman (David Carradine) was once a successful stock car racer, but like most protagonists of the genre, he has fallen from grace and now has something to prove. After a tragic car accident that claimed the life of a friend, Buckman was sentenced to a stay in prison, all but ending his career. He is a free man now, but he continues to have deathly premonitions of car crashes and his own death. Still on probation, Buckman is not allowed the leave the state. There is, however, one little event that will make him break parole just this one time…The Trans-America Grand Prix.

inline Image The transcontinental race, which involves participants driving 3000 miles from Los Angelas to New York in a free for all for the grand prize. The winner pockets $100, 000 and there are a number of contestants vying for the top prize. Competing against Buckman are a bunch of stereotypes from all demographics. There are a couple of young surfers, an obese adulterer, a van full of beautiful women, a country western singer, a jivin’ black man and a foreigner with an accent right out of a James Bond movie. Together, this rag tag group of wannabe victors will take it to the streets and outwit the police. Coy Buckman has something to prove, but with the stakes this high, only one man can win, and for many, it will be murder!

inline Image Although not explicitly a horror movie, Cannonball certainly has a body count to rival the best. Several of the main cast members are either shot or exploded in terrible car accidents, and many random auto drivers are also exploded on screen. What makes this so awkward is the fact that the film purports itself to be an unabashed comedy picture throughout the carnage. It is tough to know whether to laugh or feel sorry as all these people, some with significant character development, are quickly wasted as the storyline continues. In Death Race 2000 the deaths were part of the titular hook, and besides, it was in the future. Cannonball takes place in a real American event in the present time, and all the deaths are treated lightly. In the same way that Emanuelle in America manages to twist genres and be both a porn and a horror film, Cannonball uncomfortably straddles the line between comedy and horror.

inline Image As brutal as some of the car wrecks and deathly dreams are, the film is still a fairly entertaining little racing picture. The Cannonball Run took more than just the title from this picture, as many of the stock characters, like the lovable fat guy, the beautiful women, and the foreigner with the high tech ride, all make it from film to film. Cannonball presents a fine cast of characters, like Bill’s little brother, Robert Carradine, who even at a young age really displays the same charisma as his brother. Gerrit Graham does a ying to his “Meat” yang from Phantom of the Paradise, abandoning his pop singing skills for strict country. Dick Miller, the hardnosed character actor who has been in everything from The Terminator to Chopping Mall, also gives yet another brief, but memorable, performance as Buckman’s brother.

inline Image There are several cameos in the film as well, with names like Sylvester Stallone, Martin Scorsese, Roger Corman, Joe Dante and even the director Paul Bartel all getting in their few distinguishing lines. While no performance stretches any artistic boundaries, it is fun to see such a diverse cast having as much fun as the cast does here in Cannonball.

inline Image Cannonball is one of those films that really leaves no impact by the time the credits role, but like a quick and speedy drag race, it is fun while it lasts. Everything is done kind of tongue in cheek, and it is also funny to see several obligatory kung fu scenes to cash in on David Carradine’s fame as Kwai Chang Caine in the “Kung Fu” television phenomenon. While never a decisively original motion picture, its influence on movies like The Cannonball Run and even a tent pole scene in Speed makes it noteworthy historically. In the canon of great car racing flicks, Cannonball shoots right for the middle – nothing great, but good politically incorrect fun all the same.

Image Quality

Cannonball was exhibited theatrically in 1.66:1, and Blue Underground has preserved that ratio in anamorphic for this DVD. The resulting transfer is very solid, with rich saturation and vivid colors. Given that it is a racing picture, the film is filled with long shots of cars across the horizon, and the sky looks blue and the bright sheen of every vehicle distinct and vibrant. There are many poorly lit night scenes later in the film, but even they look good thanks to deep and dark black toning. There is grain present throughout, but for a film approaching 30 you can’t expect anything less. As for print damage, the print is impeccably clean, with dirt or scratches nearly impossible to find. This is another great transfer by the Blue for a film that maybe doesn’t quite deserve it.

Sound

Blue Underground presents the film in a revved up Dolby Digital 5.1 track, as well as 2.0 and mono mixes. The 5.1 track is fairly well designed, with some interesting sound distribution, especially right at the beginning with the pulsing heartbeat sound throughout the entire setup. Directional effects are applied whenever a car whizzes by from one side of the frame to the other, and some of the car explosions give off some envelopment. However, the track lacks bass, and can sound at time a little hollow. Given the original elements are mono though, the transfer is still certainly commendable. While not quite up to their tweaked surround tracks for the similar Fast Company, Blue Underground nonetheless provides a solid remix for Cannonball.

Supplemental Material

inline Image One of the Ungerground’s small titles, Cannonball still has a few little supplemental features worth checking out. The main attraction is a ten minute featurette, “Kicks and Crashes”, which interviews David Carradine, Mary Woronov and Roger Corman about aspects of the film. Director Paul Bartel passed away in 2000, and the three all pay him tribute and talk about the problems he had while trying to make the film. Both Carradine and Woronov both admit to not liking the film all that much, but they still both reveal some warm and interesting facts about the film. Carradine talks about having to stage the kung fu scenes, while Woronov talks about how Bartel was desperately trying to fund a bizarre little picture called FrankenCar (obviously to little success). It is a brisk but entertaining ride through Cannonball.

inline ImageThe other supplements are all promotional in nature, with a really cheesy theatrical trailer, some TV spots, and a poster and still gallery to round off the set. Make sure to also watch the feature right until the end credits for a hidden little promo for another low budget Carradine picture.


Final Thoughts

Cannonball is not quite the shot of racing elixir one might expect, but as a weird hybrid between the comedic and the horrific, and as a showcase of popular character actors, it more than serves its purpose. The video and audio are again up to Blue Underground’s high standards, and the short little featurette is a nice cherry on this smaller release. If you grew up with Smokey, then you’ll have a ball with this Cannon.

Rating

Movie – C+
Image Quality – A-
Sound – B+
Supplements – B-

Technical Info.
  • Running Time - 1 hour 34 minutes
  • Color
  • Rated R
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1
  • English Dolby Digital Surround 2.0
  • English mono
Supplements
  • “Kicks and Crashes” featurette
  • Theatrical trailer
  • TV spots
  • Poster & still galleries

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