Gumball 3000 Review
"I just want to be like Burt Reynolds", says one of the racers in Gumball 3000, a new British-made documentary about a trans-American road race inspired by the legendary Cannonball Run. I use the word documentary in its loosest form by the way. This is no straight-laced Discovery Channel job, as you can tell from its 18 certificate, which is for some very salty language. Gumball 3000 has the anarchic, screw-everything spirit of Jackass but it's not just mindless stunts and profanity, it's been made with a great deal of skill and the same affection for its subject matter that you can find in other labours of love like Beyond The Mat, a great documentary about professional wrestling, and Trekkies, a mind-boggling look at Star Trek fans. I love those movies and I have fond memories of watching Burt Reynolds outrunning the cops so when I stumbled upon the Leicester Square premiere of Gumball 3000 last week, at which some of the contestants arrived in their racing cars, I made a point of tracking it down.
First, a little history. In the early 1970s, American motor journalist Brock Yates organised the first "Cannonball", an illegal coast-to-coast road race from New York to California in which the only rule was to finish first. It was intended partly as a protest against the government's imposition of strict 55 mph speed limits across the nation so speeding was encouraged and evading the highway patrol became part of the fun. The race soon became a legend, inspiring the 1976 film The Gumball Rally and, later, the Cannonball Run movies. The Gumball 3000 was first held in 1999 and it's as much inspired by those films and by Burt's other four-wheeled hits, the Smokey And The Bandit series, as it is by the original road races. The organiser, Maximillion Cooper, is British and in fact the first three Gumballs were held in Europe before the event crossed the Atlantic in 2002. This film is a record of the 2003 event which took place over five days in May. 145 racers drove from San Fransisco to Miami, stopping overnight at checkpoints in Las Vegas, Tucson, San Antonio and New Orleans.
The event attracts competitors from all over the world and from all walks of life. Arthur, a rich, young and very foul-mouthed car enthusiast from London has paid half a million dollars for a Koenigsegg CC, a Swedish-made supercar which claims the distinction of being the fastest production car on the planet. He's also paid a portable pit crew to follow him along the route in case his $500,000 dream machine breaks down, which indeed it does. There are a good few Brits in the race. We also meet an affable blonde Sloaney who's brought her "Lambo" with her and who cheerfully tells us how she wrote off two Ferraris. Then there are the Yanks, who come in all shapes and sizes. Sure there are the stereotypical tattooed rednecks with their buxom blonde girlfriends in pick-ups and muscle cars but there are also guys you wouldn't expect to see in a street race, like chatty high tech geeks who seem less interested in their cars than in their navigation gadgets, which use the very latest satellite communications technology to save them the bother of looking at road signs.
There are even celebrity entrants. Jackass star Ryan Dunn is one, driving a rental car because the BMW he customised specially for the race blew up shortly before it started. However the show is all but stolen by the Cuban Brothers, Miguel Mantovani and Archerio, a couple of flamboyant Cuban emigres who dress like Liberace might have if he'd been a pimp. OK, they're not really Cuban, they're actually Scottish comedians Mike Keats and Archie Easton who have DJ'd in Ibiza and appeared on MTV. They get big laughs every time they appear and documentary director Steven Green has the sense to stand back and let them do their thing. Don't be surprised if they're the next Ali G-style comedy sensation. There are also appearances by model Jodie Kidd, skateboarder Tony Hawk and plenty of attractive young ladies from Hooters and the Playboy mansion. And as the icing on the cake, the film is narrated by - who else? - Burt Reynolds.
These and other characters give Gumball 3000 humour and personality that will appeal to general audiences but underneath this is still a film about fast cars and of course it's fast car fanatics who are going to appreciate it the most. The racing footage is terrific. Well, as terrific as digital video gets. Seen on a cinema screen, video always looks a little blurred and washed out. Sometimes that's the price of getting a low budget film made. Much of the footage, especially the aerial shots of cars tearing across empty landscapes and across bridges and dams, is still pretty spectacular and will look better on DVD.
Another slight disappointment is that we don't see any police chases, especially since the film opens with a contestant recalling one such pursuit. There is a lot of footage of racers getting tickets though. Unlike the fictional Cannonballers, real-life Gumballers pull over when the cops turn on their sirens! In fact one of the entrants, who's racing in a German police car, enjoys winding up fellow contestants by switching on his lights and pretending to bust them. The film's general amorality about speeding is an issue that might upset some viewers, judging by the emotions frequently raised by the subject on our DVD Forums. While the organisers officially warn contestants not to break any laws, they do it with all the sincerity of WWE referees telling the wrestlers not to fight dirty. However, you probably know by now whether you're likely to enjoy Gumball 3000 or be appalled and, since the race is opened by the mayor of San Fransisco, presumably the American authorities don't fret too much about it. And the outraged among you will be pleased to learn that the last time we see Arthur, who's bragged of doing 240 miles an hour in his Koenigsegg, he's been thrown in jail and his car impounded and he vows he'll never speed again. So it's not like there isn't a moral.
Gumball 3000 is being distributed by its makers and plays for a week at selected Odeon cinemas, then goes on tour. Click here for screening info and here for the official site. At the time of writing, it doesn't yet have an entry on the Internet Movie Database.