Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 6, 2017)
Back in 1976, my mom took me to see The Gumball Rally. Maybe 20 minutes into it, the film snapped and the projectionist couldn’t fix it. This led to a refund and I never saw the rest of the movie.
Until now! Thanks to the miracle of Blu-ray, I can finally experience what my nine-year-old self missed.
Well-to-do businessman Michael Bannon (Michael Sarrazin) finds himself bored with life, so he develops a path to excitement. Bannon invents a cross-country race he calls the “Gumball Rally” – a no-holds-barred, no-speed-limits-respected New York to LA trek that brings out a mix of other automotive thrill-seekers.
Of course, this event comes with plenty of risks. In addition to basic threats to life and limb, the drivers need to contend with LAPD Lieutenant Roscoe (Normann Burton), a cop who learns of the Rally and who makes it his mission to stop it.
Does it act as a spoiler to indicate that Roscoe fails – and flops in a variety of comedic ways? Of course not – if the police officer succeeded, the movie would’ve ended before it broke at my cinematic screening 41 years ago.
Which might not have been a bad thing, as then I would’ve not been stuck with nearly 107 minutes of road race tedium. While I don’t expect cinematic greatness from a wacky romp like Rally, I hope for some entertainment value, a factor the film sorely lacks.
Rally barely qualifies as an actual movie, as it instead comes across more like a loosely-connected series of stunt scenes. Add in occasional stabs at slapstick comedy and we get enough material to pad out the film’s running time, but at no point does it threaten to coalesce into a coherent narrative.
That doesn’t necessarily become a fatal flaw, as a better executed movie could succeed without a tight plot. After all, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World comes with a similarly flimsy storyline but it packs in so much comedy that we don’t care.
Rally skimps on actual amusement, as it gives us stabs at hilarity without any real laughs. While the film includes some talented actors, it doesn’t include any noted for comedy, a stark contrast with the abundance of mirthmakers from World.
I think this turns into a massive problem. With actors better versed in comedy, perhaps Rally could’ve generated amusement, but almost no one in the cast shows the skills necessary to churn chuckles from the thin material.
Rally waits almost half an hour to start the titular race, and it fails to use that time well. The opening act introduces us to the many characters in the vaguest possible way, so we don’t get to know much about them.
Normally I’d applaud the choice to devote so much time to exposition, but because Rally fails to convey much development, these moments feel wasted. The film could’ve started the race much earlier and lost none of its “substance” – indeed, we could’ve learned about the participants on the way and not felt so bored right off the bat.
With thin characters and flat attempts at comedy, one might hope Rally at least dazzles in terms of its race scenes and stunts. While those do fare better than the other elements, they don’t give us enough excitement to compensate for the other drawbacks.
The movie’s choppy pacing and spotty editing tend to rob the driving scenes of much oomph. We get no clarity here, as the film jumps around characters/scenarios with so little logic that the action fails to register.
We do find a quick shot of a topless woman and plenty of bawdy content, factors that mean more to me now than when I was 9. Otherwise, Gumball Rally delivers a forgettable romp.