Cannonball! With an exclamation mark! Distributed by Roger Corman and produced, apparently, by the Shaw Brothers! That can't be right, can it?
Just like Gumball Rally, this came out in 1976 and is about an underground coast-to-coast race. But this one goes from Santa Monica to New York, not New York to Long Beach. It's a whole different movie!
I think of Gumball Rally as the spiritual prequel to Cannonball Run, like how Speed Zone isn't "really" Cannonball Run 3 but we all know it is. But Cannonball! also has a claim, what with the name and all. Also apparently the novelization of this movie and of Cannonball Run were by the same guy, so somebody, at some point, thought of them as fairly similar. Apparently, that means there's a novelization of Cannonball Run. I bet it's awful.
You know how there's sometimes someone in movies like this who flies ahead so they can be at multiple race locations before the race gets there? Like in Gumball Rally, where Roscoe the Cop sets up four or five different roadblocks? That sseems challenging to me. The whole race takes less than 35 hours and these guys manage to watch the cars pass them in Albuquerque, then rush to the airport, jump on a plane, and fly directly to Houston in time to see the cars pass them, then get to Kansas City? There must have been an awful lot of flights available at convenient times.
The best scene is the big car crash toward the end. You know the scene in Blues Brothers where a ridiculous number of police cars slam into each other and you start wondering why they didn't stop first? This is like that, with about half the cars but ten times the silliness. Because these are the kind of car crashes where the cars immediately explode into big ridiculous fireballs with giant plumes of black smoke. And the cars hit the pileup much slower, so eventually it's been several minutes since the pileup started and there's a blaze that could be seen from the next state and people are still driving into it at full speed and dying horribly.
The horrible deaths, incidentally, are why I think of Gumball Rally as the closer sibling to Cannonball Run -- this movie feels more like one of the nihilistic early-seventies driving movies where people die suddenly at the end, whereas Gumball Rally is more cheerful and fun-loving. It could be argued that the Cannonball Run movies took that too far.
Awesome trivia: this is the only movie where Sylvester Stallone and Martin Scorsese have ever worked together. They both have tiny roles (and a scene where they're acting together with Paul Bartel, who directed the movie), but I don't think it counts as a cameo if it happens before anyone knows who you are. Stallone's no surprise because he was in Bartel's previous movie, which also involves a cross-country race. With lots of killing. Man, Death Race 2000 is fun. More fun than this one, anyway. Apparently, Paul Bartel directed Death Race 2000 for the comedy but then got kind of pigeonholed in the "car" genre. And then he broke out of it by doing Eating Raoul. He had kind of an unusual career.