In 1975, a Time magazine cover story introduced the world to the “Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash,” better known as the Cannonball Run, an illegal road race in which competitors sped across the U.S. to determine who could travel from New York to Los Angeles the fastest. Created by a pair of car enthusiasts rebelling against speed limits, the Cannonball Run inspired two low-budget movies released in 1976. First up was the Roger Corman production Cannonball, a black comedy with the accent on violence, and then came this lighthearted take on the subject.
The Gumball Rally stars Michael Sarrazin as Michael Bannon, the idle-rich originator of a Cannonball-style road race involving a handful of free-spirited competitors. Although the movie has some perfunctory plot devices, like Bannon’s friendly rivalry with fellow racer Steve Smith (Tim McIntire) and the efforts of inept cop Lt. Roscoe (Norman Burton) to interrupt the race, the focus is on wild automotive antics: The drivers pull high-speed shenanigans like transferring passengers from one moving car to another, and they make sport of outsmarting cops across the country.
There’s not much in the way of characterization, so, for instance, Alice (Susan Flannery) and Jane (Joanne Nail) are one-note hotties using their looks to wriggle free of police entanglements while demolishing speed limits in their Porsche. Despite its superficiality, The Gumball Rally is an amiable celebration of individualism and irreverence, since the racers aren’t out to hurt anybody; they’re simply competing for fun, glory, and a gold-plated gumball machine.
As directed by Charles Bail, whose career primarily comprises episodes of shows like CHiPs and Knight Rider, The Gumball Rally benefits greatly from enthusiastic performers. Sarrazin, an promising ’60s/’70s leading man whose career was starting to wobble at this point, is charming and funny, while McIntire offers his customary force-of-nature bluster; they make such a great duo it would have been fun to see them in other movies together. Gary Busey plays another in his long line of crazy-redneck characters, hootin’ and hollerin’ to enjoyable effect, and a young Raul Julia steals the movie with his flamboyant turn as an Italian speedster with a weakness for the ladies.
The Gumball Rally is fluff, but it goes down a lot smoother than the officially sanctioned movie about the Cannonball race, 1981’s star-studded The Cannonball Run. Whereas the latter film is bloated, crude, and sexist, The Gumball Rally is 105 minutes of pleasant silliness.
The Gumball Rally: GROOVY