A bizarre bunch of multi-national entrants gather to take part in a trans-American motor race. The idea, highly illegal as it is, is to reach California first, by any means necessary. The dirty tricks of this bunch of racers, however, threatens to all but destroy the competition entirely.
Like a retirement home for seventies, if not even earlier, icons, this big screen, real-peopled (well, kind of) reworking of TV’s cartoon Whacky Racers is a burbling nonsense, but at least one obvious enough in its intentions. Hence, it’s hard to sneer, there’s a loopy charm to its episodic, action-orientated comedy.
The antecedents are obvious. Casting Burt Reynolds, at his most drolly exasperated, tips its forelock to the Smokey And The Bandit movies. The sheer drum roll of tattered greats suggests the lengthy star-packed hi-jinks of A Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad World. And any number of Roger Moores and Jackie Chans identify former glories and or contemporary references. Farah Fawcett, as the lovely caught up with Reynolds ambulance bound — to siren their way through the traffic — hurtle for victory, is yesterday’s sex bomb.
Then Hal Needham, a former stunt driver himself, isn’t looking for sophistication. The aging superstars turn up, do their thing — Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., dressed as priests, simply play gags off their own booze problems — and allow the movie to throttle its way to the end. The general tone of the humour possesses a lurid sexism, as creased and worn-out as much of the cast. Adrienne Barbeau simply unzips her cleavage to slip away from traffic cops about to cite her for speeding. The limited stunts too, bare the hallmarks of low budgeting, missing the opportunity for some fender-bending fun.
What saves the movie is its relaxed sense of self-awareness. Reynolds all but winks at the audience with his collection of Dick Dastardly sneaks and dodges, but holds onto that winning, hangdog warmth that got him to the top of the pile in the seventies. Who can blame him, his doofus sidekick Dom DeLuise, to be fair about the funniest thing in the movie, is convinced he is superhero Captain Chaos ready to answer the call of duty at the most inopportune of times. And that it was obviously a (cannon)ball to make is revealed via the collection of outtakes of gaffs and corpsing relayed over the end-credits.
A less-important film you would be hard pressed to find, but there remains a place for Z-grade fluff like this, such that they managed to undercut themselves with a truly dreadful sequel.
70's stuff and nonsense but fun nevertheless with a crazy ensemble cast of celebrities of the era.