Speed Zone (1989) — John Candy is fast and furious

“Why don’t you go back to Sweden, ya bunch of yodelers!”

Justin’s rating: Ready for a road trip?

Justin’s review: One trend that I don’t think we’ve discussed very much here on Mutant Reviewers was a spate of films in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s that focused on illegal car racing with a side dish of humor. Long before the Fast & Furious series, there was the Cannonball Run and Smokey and the Bandit franchises, not to mention TV shows like Knight Rider and Dukes of Hazzard that fetishized car stunts and fast driving.

That all wound down by the end of the 1980s, but it didn’t stop completely. In 1989, a semi-sequel or unofficial sequel to Cannonball Run II was released called Speed Zone, starring everyone’s favorite no-nonsense race driver, John Candy. It actually jammed in a lot of other well-known actors into this $3 million flop, including Jamie Farr, Eugene Levy, Matt Frewer, Tim Matheson, Alyssa Milano, Brooke Shields, Peter Boyle, and Carl Lewis.

The idea here is that the latest Cannonball Run — an actual transcontinental illegal race from the east to west coast of the USA — gets all of its drivers arrested on the eve of the great race. Instead of canceling the race, the cars’ sponsors elect to use any replacements they can find… including Charlie Cronan (John Candy), a parking valet that gets paired up with ditzy Tiffany (Donna Dixon, Dan Aykroyd’s real-life wife). Behind the wheels of BMWs, Jaguars, Spyders, and Lamborghini, the replacement drivers take the race to the streets of America in a crazy, no-holds-barred race while the cops pursue.

About when this movie came out (1989), marks the one and only period in my life that I was interested in sports cars, so a lot of the vehicles in Speed Zone — especially the Countach — bring back pleasant memories of collecting Micro Machines and daydreaming about racing such cars.

It’s just a shame that after a promising chase scene at the start, the movie gets bogged down with setting up the race for the next half-hour before any further car racing is seen. There’s a whole lot going on, some of it dull and some amusing (but not really laugh-out-loud funny). It’s kind of the low-grade comedy that you’d see in the Police Academy (which makes sense, as this was also directed by Police Academy 4’s Jim Drake), slapsticky stuff to endear you to the characters without going the extra effort of eliciting a chuckle. Quirky. It’s quirky. I enjoyed between the different driver pairs, which include some criminals, an ambitious news reporting team, two millionaire brothers, and female gadget geeks.

There are some good parts here worth sifting through, such as one part where a driving instructor gets irrationally angry against one of the racers driving a Volvo and prompts his student to get super aggressive, or when an older Midwestern couple kept getting wrong calls from the people involved in the race, or when Charlie and Tiffany play a movie trivia game as they’re speeding backwards from the cops, or when a plane takes to a highway instead of taking off.

Plus, unlike the films I mentioned earlier, Speed Zone is most definitely an ’80s movie through and through. From the cars to the fashion to the soundtrack, this is exactly the type of movie that teenage me might’ve adored watching on sick days home from school.

Didja notice?

  • Skipping the Lamborghini Countach across water!
  • The Arab driver is a hilarious interviewee
  • Don’t cheese off your valet
  • Cops never come in through the doors if there are windows to smash through
  • Can you arrest people before they’ve committed the crime?
  • Toilet paper is a deadly weapon
  • Peter Boyle is having too much fun with that dog
  • “Look, there’s a bird nesting!” during a car jump
  • Maybe don’t smoke while you’re in a race and a semi is trying to run you off the road?
  • Apparently one local police chief has the authority to “shut down every highway in the country”
  • It’s easy to dismantle a Lamborghini by hand
  • Brooke Shields had monster eyebrows
  • You can ask hijackers to take you to different destinations
  • They certainly crossed the entire country really fast. Like, in 40 minutes.
  • Why not end with bumper cars?

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