by Susan Starr & Kevin Kocur
Susan sez: “The Gumball Rally” is about an illegal race from New York City to Long Beach, CA. I can describe the movie in one word: “Wacky”. The movie is good-natured, but the incessant wackiness does get a little wearing after a while. It starts out low key, with ordinary people; a business man, a housewife, a college professor and so on, going about their ordinary business until word comes that the Gumball Rally is on. Then the wackiness ensues.
The night before the race, they all meet for a dinner in New York City to brag about past and future race exploits. Kevin kept saying, “This is just like the ButtLite”, until they mention that last year’s winning time was 34 hours and 11minutes and there are no rules. Then he changed his tune. Apparently, the ButtLite (a long distance motorcycle rally) has lots of rules—NO SPEEDING being one of them.
To give the movie an international flavor there is a horny Italian, an insane Hungarian guy riding a Kawasaki motorcycle and two elderly Englishmen, along with an assortment of wacky Americans. There is also a policeman, Roscoe, who is obsessed with catching the racers. Roscoe concocts these elaborate schemes to catch the racers. Considering all the effort he was expending, I was thinking he wanted to arrest them. Nope. It turns out he wants to give them speeding tickets. So the stakes are really high.
You’ll enjoy the movie more if you ignore logic and geography. The drivers leave New York City and immediately arrive in Northern Arizona. It particularly annoyed me because I lived in Flagstaff for many years and recognized the terrain. Kevin had to ask me to stop yelling at the screen. Most of the race seems to take place on the same stretch of highway. In spite of the fact that a lot of these people ran the race last year, half the teams get into wacky accidents before they get out of New York City.
There is some cool stunt work and some pretty nice cars get smooshed in all sorts of interesting and wacky ways. If you have a high tolerance for wackiness and don’t think about geography too much, the movie is a mostly enjoyable, but entirely forgettable, light and fluffy source of entertainment.
Kevin sez: All wackiness aside, I think “Gumball Rally” holds up pretty well for a movie made in 1976. Fast fast fast cars never get boring. And then there’s the “lone wolf” piloting a Cafe’d two stroke Kawi. But we’ll get to him later.
The race is loosely based on the Cannonball Baker Memorial Sea to Shining Sea Trophy Dash (aka Cannonball Run), which had already been running for a few years by the time the film was made. The idea is simple: leave Manhattan, NY at a specified time and arrive some hours later in Long Beach, CA. The person/team with the fastest elapsed time wins…a trophy that resembles a gumball machine.
The drivers in the movie are a hoot. A loose assortment of characters, each determined to win the coveted “prize” and bragging rights for a year. They race from New York to California in a variety of cars: Porsche Carrera, Ferrari Daytona, Corvette, Camaro Z-28, a Mercedes, 427 Cobra roadster, a police car (with magnetic signs to represent the different states they’ll be traveling through) and even a van with a 200 gallon fuel tank to eliminate stopping for gas.
And then there’s the lone rider, who is only referred to as Lapchick, the Mad Hungarian. This man does not utter an entire word throughout the movie, yet, with his facial expressions, he is one ofthe funnier characters in the film. He manages to crash, crash and crash again in implausible, silly ways. Every time he does, he gets back on the bike and jumps back in the race. One can’t help but liken him to Wile E. Coyote (albeit in leather and a full face Bell) in the amount of suffering and perseverance the man goes through.
Along the way, one of the drivers—who’s entry in the race consists of a car that he was hired to deliver to California (this actually happened in one of the Cannonball races)—encounters a biker gang at a gas station. Bikers, being bikers, reign terror on him and his girlfriend. It’s nice to know that even in the‘70’s, the biker stereotype still existed. Sorry, but most of the people I ride with have far better things to do than dink around at gas stations.
The cast is pretty good. Raul Julia plays Franco, the womanizing Italian driver. A young Gary Busey is one of the stuntmen Camaro drivers. There’s even a cameo by Linda Vaughn (aka “Miss Hurst”—a busty young lady prevalent at many drag racing events in the ‘70’s). I will leave you with one thing—the best line of the movie. Right before the race starts, Franco tears off the rearview mirror of the Ferrari and exclaims What’s-a behind me is not important!”