The original Cannonball Run — the actual coast-to-coast race held 30 years ago — was one of those underground ideas that thrilled anybody with a love of marathons, souped-up cars and lawlessness. Semi-fictionalized for Burt Reynolds, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and a cast of hundreds, the 1981 pic and its sequels captured the fun if not the competition at the heart of the Run. The USA version, “Cannonball Run 2001,” is more defined by the year than the lineage: Reality-show elements that have already become cliche dominate this exercise as contestants drive dubious vehicles and producers force conflict on the six teams. Poor quality video and sound, not to mention that manipulated sense of “reality,” will keep car crazies and reality fiends at bay. Combined with three dull “hosts,” this is reality TV at its most tedious.
Contestants start in New York City, two people per car. There’s a pair of Playmates, two frat boys, Sue and Jeff from “Survivor,” rappers, a happy, loving couple and a Tennessee twosome. Once they reach their first destination, in Virginia, where they participate in a demolition derby for no obvious reason, a third person is added to the cars. Ho, ho! A seminary student drives the women who have posed nude! A grandmother drives the college student! A Southern white guy is behind the wheel for the black guys! And best of all, an ex-girlfriend joins the lovebirds. They, at least, have something to talk about.
Three of the six cars break down in the first episode, which immediately answers the question of what’s worse than breaking down on the side of highway? Watching somebody else do it. And by being neither race nor rally, we’re left with a hodge-podge that fails at that most basic reality TV instinct: Good vs. evil. There’s nobody here worth rooting for or against.
Executive producer Beau Flynn has considerable indie film credits (“House of Yes,” “Requiem for a Dream”) and this project couldn’t be conceptually further removed from that world. First two episodes appear to be slapped together in a hurry. Then again, the race, and the show, will be over before you know it.