When he gets bored in a business meeting, Michael Bannon (Michael Sarrazin) calls his old friend, Prof. Samuel Graves (Nicholas Pryor) and says only one word: “Gumball.” Inspired by that one word, dozens of racers assemble in New York, all planning on taking part in the Gumball Rally.
What is the Gumball Rally? It’s a highly illegal race in which teams of two compete to see which team can drive from New York to the other side of the country in the least amount of time. Bannon and Graves currently hold the record for completing the Gumball Rally in the quickest amount of time and all of the racers are determined to try to claim that record for their own. Meanwhile, one cop named Roscoe (Norman Burton) is determined to break this race up. Has there ever been a good cop named Roscoe? Rosco P. Coltrane probably had more of a chance of stopping them Duke Boys than Roscoe does stopping the Gumball Rally.
If The Gumball Rally sounds familiar, it’s because it’s basically a less star-filled version of The Cannonball Run. Instead of Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise, The Gumball Rally has Michael Sarrazin, Nicholas Pryor, Tim McIntire, and Norman Burton. Instead of Jackie Chan making his American debut, The Gumball Rally has early performances from Raul Julia and Gary Busey. Instead of Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., The Gumball Rally has Steven Keats and Wally Taylor. You get the idea. However, the lack of big stars in the cast works to The Gumball Rally‘s advantage. Whereas you watch The Cannonball Run with the knowledge that there’s no way Burt Reynolds isn’t going to at least come in second, it seems like anyone of the eccentric teams in The Gumball Rally could win the race.
Make no mistake about it, The Gumball Rally is a car chase film, one that was released at the height of that underrated genre’s popularity. The actors are all likable and almost all of the characters get at least one funny, personality-defining moment but the real stars of The Gumball Rally are the cars and the stunts. That’s not surprising as this film was directed by legendary stuntman Chuck Bail. This film is full of spectacular crashes and near misses. (The race’s lone motorcyclist is especially accident-prone.) Again, the lack of stars in the cast (and the fact that the cast reportedly did most of their own driving) bring an added element of suspense to the stunts. You watch The Cannonball Run and Smoky and the Bandit secure in the knowledge that Burt Reynolds is never going to crash his vehicle because he’s Burt Ryenolds. You don’t have that same automatic security when the car is being driven by Michael Sarrazine or Tim McIntire.
It may not be as well known as some of the films that it inspired but, if you like a good car chase (or a good car crash) film, The Gumball Rally is for you.