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Speed Zone (also known as Cannonball Fever), released in 1989, is a comedy set around an illegal cross-country race (inspired by the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash).
The film stars many alumni of SCTV, including John Candy, Eugene Levy and Joe Flaherty. The cast also includes Donna Dixon, Matt Frewer, Tim Matheson, Mimi Kuzyk, Melody Anderson, Shari Belafonte, Dick and Tom Smothers, Peter Boyle, Don Lake, Alyssa Milano, John Schneider, Brooke Shields, Michael Spinks, Lee Van Cleef, Harvey Atkin, Brian George, Art Hindle, Louis Del Grande, Carl Lewis and Richard Petty.
Jamie Farr cameos as "Sheik Abdul ben Falafel", who says in an interview that he is retiring from racing. Farr and his character are the only actor and character to appear in all three films of the Cannonball Run movie universe.
John Schneider makes a cameo as the driver of the Lamborghini Countach at the beginning of the movie while being chased by an assortment of police cars, and is seen wearing an orange racing suit with a Confederate flag on it, a nod to The Dukes of Hazzard character Schneider played.
Lee Van Cleef, in one of his final appearances, is in the same scene playing an old man teaching his grandson how to skip stones on a pond as the Lamborghini drives past.
The premise is that all the racers are arrested before the race begins, and the sponsors have to quickly line up new racers.
An assortment of people gather at a countryside inn in preparation for the infamous "Cannonball Run", an illegal three-day cross-country race from Washington, D.C. to Santa Monica where the winner and five runners-up will receive $1 million. However, the hot-headed Washington Chief of Police Spiro T. Edsel (Peter Boyle), along with his long-suffering sidekick Whitman (Don Lake), arrests all of the drivers to prevent the race from happening. As a result, sponsors must find replacement drivers by the next day.
Leo Ross (Eugene Levy), seeing that his old school rival, Charlie Cronan (John Candy), has driving skills while working as a parking valet, bullies him into driving his BMW. Ross also persuades Charlie to bring along Tiffany (Donna Dixon), a dimwitted Marilyn Monroe-esque actress.
Vic DeRubis (Joe Flaherty) is a hitman-for-hire sent to kill Alec Stewart (Matt Frewer), an English deadbeat and compulsive gambler who has squandered money that he borrowed from loan sharks. Alec convinces Vic to ride with him, hoping to win the Cannonball Run and pay off the various mobsters. They team up in a Jaguar XJS.
Lee Roberts (Melody Anderson) and Margaret (Shari Belafonte) take over a Ferrari Daytona Spyder after the driver they are trying to woo is arrested. MIT graduates into electronics and gadgets, they are tempted by the prize money and the challenge.
When the driver of the Lamborghini is arrested, a skittish Italian porter named Valentino Rosatti (Brian George) is forced to drive it by Flash (Art Hindle), a former policeman who wants the money for his own reasons.
Nelson and Randolph Van Sloan (Dick Smothers and Tom Smothers), two millionaires and the only drivers not arrested in the police sweep, enter in a Bentley Corniche convertible. They spend most of their time trying to secretly catch a flight to Los Angeles in order to win by foul means.
In hot pursuit is Edsel, who grows increasingly insane in his unsuccessful efforts to stop the racers. Edsel and his men manage to arrest Vic and Alec, who quickly escape and steal the police car. Edsel and Whitman chase after them in their Jaguar.
At the race conclusion, Edsel and Whitman themselves win the Cannonball Run by driving the Jaguar across the finish line at Santa Monica Pier first – saving Alec, because as he points out to Vic; the winner is the car, not the driver – followed by Vic and Alec in their stolen police car. Charlie and Tiffany driving the BMW finish third, Lee and Margaret fourth, Heather and Jack fifth, Flash and Valentino sixth, with the Van Sloan brothers coming in last while riding on roller skis.
The ending credits features the cast playfully driving bumper cars.
The film received negative reviews from critics and was nominated for three Golden Raspberry Awards including Worst Picture and Worst Director, with Brooke Shields winning Worst Supporting Actress. The very brief cameo by Shields has her playing herself, saying that she hopes not to end up being in "lousy movies". Chicago film critic Roger Ebert gave the film zero stars in his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, stating:
|“||Read my lips. Cars are not funny. Speeding cars are not funny. It is not funny when a car spins around and speeds in the other direction. It is not funny when a car flies through the air. It is not funny when a truck crashes into a car. It is not funny when cops chase speeding cars. It is not funny when cars crash through roadblocks. None of those things are funny. They have never been funny.||”|
Ebert's colleague Gene Siskel also gave a harsh review to this film - he said "it is an atrocious excuse for entertainment. If I have a pet peeve about movies is that they are so venal that don't even try to be good. That's Speed Zone."
The film was released in North America on VHS in 1990 by Media Home Entertainment. The Media release of "Speed Zone" was issued on laserdisc by Image Entertainment (#ID7192ME; $39.95) for American and Canadian markets in 1990. In Japan, the film was released on laserdisc by Towa-Pioneer and packaged as "The Cannonball Run III: Speed Zone". The Japanese disc release did not feature an on-screen credit "The Cannonball Run III", but carried the same "Speed Zone" on-screen credit as found in the North American release.
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