At 25: “Speed Zone”/”Field of Dreams”

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April 21, 2014 by billysparrow


Speed Zone

Released: April 21, 1989

Starring: Peter Boyle, John Candy, Donna Dixon, Matt Frewer, Joe Flaherty, Shari Belafonte, Melody Anderson, Tom Smothers, Dick Smothers, Tim Matheson, Mimi Kuzyk, Eugene Levy

“Speed Zone” (which apparently is also known as “Cannonball Fever,” and if there’s a sure sign of a great movie, it’s having two different titles) hardly seems like a movie at all. It seems like an idea someone had that, before anyone could really object, became a movie, or at least 90 minutes of something close enough to pass as a movie. Even the trailer seems like it was put together on a whim.

The movie is ostensibly “Cannonball Run III,” and I’m not entirely clear why it wasn’t called that (other than the reason that no one was clamoring for a third “Cannonball Run” movie in 1989, five years after “Cannonball Run II”). IMDB reports that Burt Reynolds was approached to make a third installment, but when he declined, they decided to ditch the name and go with “Speed Zone.” This seems unlikely but, as I have already mentioned, so does this entire movie.

Rest assured, “Speed Zone” does follow Cannonballers as they drive across the country in order to win the big race (and “Cannonball Run” devotees who somehow find “Speed Zone” will be no doubt delighted to see the return of Jamie Farr as the sheik…or maybe they won’t be). And it’s a hodgepodge of great comedic actors capable of doing much better (Peter Boyle, John Candy, Joe Flaherty), other actors I don’t know enough about to tell if they’re capable of doing better (Shari Belafonte, Melody Anderson, Donna Dixon), and cameos from athletes (Michael Spinks and Carl Lewis). It’s a decided step down from the casts of the first two “Cannonball Run” movies (the IMDB cast listing for “Cannonball Run II” is still a little breathtaking), but there’s still enough to give you hope at the movie’s outset that this might actually be good.

Alas, that hope remains largely unfulfilled. Candy, who I suppose is meant to be the heart of the movie, has almost no chemistry with Dixon (playing an actress who wants to be just like Marilyn Monroe…in case the way she talks and dresses doesn’t tip you to that, she throws in that she’s thinking of changing her name to Norma Jean–genius!), and even his screen time with Eugene Levy (side note: don’t dismiss “Armed and Dangerous” in the Candy–or Levy–oeuvre; it’s stronger than you might remember) isn’t enough to satisfy. As potential murderer and murderee, Flaherty and Matt Frewer (I’ll go out on a limb and say he’s underrated, too) have much better chemistry, but there’s so many characters to follow that they never really get a fair shake at the spotlight. Boyle, as police chief Spiro Edsel, starts strong, but his character runs out of steam at the end of the movie.

And as for the end of the movie (which, unsurprisingly, is a bit of a mess), I will say this about it: it came up faster than I thought it would. I made it about 75 minutes in before I even checked the clock to see how much time was left. I think that’s mainly due to the quick scenes and the occasional celebrity cameos that pop up during lulls in the action. There’s Alyssa Milano as a test-driving teen (prepare for hilarity!).

And our first look at the acting chops of noted pugilist Michael Spinks.

Not to mention Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis’s silver-screen debut (no video available–and it’s pretty brief anyway–so in its place, I’ve decided to post a clip of him trying to sing the National Anthem, because, well, why not?).

I could now go on to discuss in detail the logical failings of the movie, but I get the feeling that would be pretty pointless (please allow me just this one: the TV news team joins the Cannonball in an attempt to win the Pulitzer, which would be a first, because Pulitzers are for written work) and maybe a little sad on my part–though I don’t think it would be as sad as those auto enthusiasts who felt obligated to send in their vehicular-related gripes about the movie to IMDB. And I guess that brings up the point that if you like watching cars go fast (and judging by the popularity of “The Fast and the Furious,” there are plenty who do), perhaps you will enjoy “Speed Zone” more than I. Or maybe you can just watch the opening five minutes and go wash your car.

I have spent a good deal of time telling you how bad “Speed Zone” is, but I feel it is only right to also tell you this: there is a moment in the movie that is among my favorite scenes in the entire history of filmdom (emphasis on “dom”) and is the reason why, despite all of what I have just written, “Speed Zone” forever holds a place in my heart. In fact, it is that scene that even led me to remember “Speed Zone” and spend time rewatching it so I could write about for this enormously popular “At 25” series. If you have seen the movie, I can’t imagine that you do not know what is coming next. But if you haven’t, first of all, congratulations, because I’ve probably seen it at least 10 times (and specifically asked for it–and got it–for Christmas 1989) and I’m pretty convinced I don’t like it all that much. But, second of all, I am jealous of you because you are now going to watch this fantastic moment in cinema history for the first time. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Tom Smothers and Jean Pierre Bergeron.

Two things: (1) never even mention peanuts around me unless you want me to quote that scene and (2) if you didn’t laugh at that, please let me know and I will immediately ban you from reading this blog. Yes, it’s a harsh punishment, but I think it’s fitting.

But, hey, to show you that there’s no hard feelings, I’m gonna let you stick around to read the second half of this double feature, about a film that received a bit more critical acclaim and is a touch more universally beloved. Field_of_Dreams_poster

Field of Dreams

Released: April 21, 1989

Starring: Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Gaby Hoffman, Ray Liotta, Burt Lancaster, Frank Whaley, Timothy Busfield

You can tell yourself you’re going to watch “Field of Dreams” and not cry, but you will be lying to yourself. And I am inserting the yous and yourselfs there simply to make me and myself feel better about crying every time I watch “Field of Dreams,” including this most recent time, when I was so proud of myself for watching an episode of “Parenthood” earlier in the day and not crying that I thought this was gonna be the time when I get to the end of “Field of Dreams” and have no real reaction.

And, of course, I was wrong.

And that’s even after stopping at various points during the movie and thinking, “Man, this movie is awfully speech-y.” It is at these moments where the movie gets dangerously close to being hokey, and a movie that exists solely to provide the actors with potent monologues that sort of stop the movie and alert the viewer that what you are about to hear is Very, Very Important. I’m not saying there is anything necessarily wrong with that, and it’s common enough in sports movies (though I’d argue that “Field of Dreams” isn’t really a sports movie, and if I don’t ramble on too long, I might pose that exact argument later). But on this viewing, the speeches did seem a little more prominent than I remember (and I completely forgot the quick retelling of the Kinsella family history that starts the movie).

I think we’re all familiar enough with the plot of “Field of Dreams” that I don’t need to recap it, right? Mysterious voice, baseball field, Shoeless Joe, possible foreclosure, reclusive author, Moonlight Graham…you remember. I sure do. Coming on the heels of “Eight Men Out” (anybody who says that “Field of Dreams” is a better baseball movie than “Eight Men Out” is not to be trusted), it furthered my burgeoning obsession with Shoeless Joe Jackson, and even led me to buy a paperback version of “Shoeless Joe,” the W.P. Kinsella book on which the movie was loosely based). I don’t know that I cried upon my initial viewing of the movie (probably on videotape, which, by the way, is how I watched it most recently…with the Blockbuster Video sticker still affixed to the tape), but I do know that it made enough of an impact that when it came time to fill out the “My Favorites” page in my eighth-grade autograph book, “Shoeless Joe” and W.P. Kinsella were featured prominently, and my motto came straight from the “Field of Dreams” video box (well, slightly mangled). Where’s the proof of this, you ask? Well, I am relieved you asked, because I figured there had to be a reason why I took a picture of it 15 seconds ago.

DSCF8338In case you can’t read my bad handwriting, my motto in 1990 was “Believe in the impossible, the incredible comes true,” which is close enough to the video box’s “If you believe in the impossible, the incredible can come true.” I should also point out that this has never been my motto. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve never had a motto. I think the video box was close to me when I was filling out the page, and the line sort of sounded profound. (And, yes, Roy Orbison’s “Crying” was my favorite song when I was 13 in 1990. What, that’s weird?)

Even though I liked the movie (and book), the emotional weight of it doesn’t really hit you when you’re 12 or 13 years old. I guess there’s a chance you might not know how the movie ends, so I should probably end the discussion there. But it’s hard to move on to my next point, and a point I would like to stress to the world, without touching on the ending of the movie, so, well, we’re just gonna have to get down to it. Please avert your eyes if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want the ending spoiled. Actually, from here on out I think I’m going to be discussing a lot of things related to the end of the movie, which is a pretty fantastic conclusion (to the movie, not necessarily this blog entry, though perhaps it’ll turn out fantastic, too). So maybe you should just go watch the movie. It’s the start of the baseball season, and thus as good a time as any to watch a movie about a guy who builds a baseball field (though, again, I’d stop short of calling this a sports movie…we’re probably not gonna get to that argument, as this is already getting pretty unwieldy, but we can discuss in person if you like). So go do that and we’ll reconvene. I’ll still be here.

OK, so, here’s the most important thing I want you to take away from this section of the “At 25” double feature (it’s not as important as the “peanuts” clip): the phrase “If you build it, they will come” is never spoken in “Field of Dreams.” Never. Not once. People think it is, and I have had to point out to authors more than once (I have been paid to do so, lest you think I just write to authors who make lazy pop culture references, though I’d do so if I had a little more time) that the sentence is not in the movie. I suspect the confusion comes from this scene (one of the speechier moments for sure, but probably the best of them).

But please note the voice tells Ray the following: “If you build it, he will come.” Ray doesn’t build the field for they; if he did, the movie would make no sense, and the ending of the movie, when Ray’s dad arrives at the field, would not make me cry every friggin’ time. So, please watch this and remember for all eternity: no one says “If you build it, they will come” in “Field of Dreams.” Thank you.

Luckily, that clip doesn’t show the very end of the scene/movie. You’d have to go to another clip to get that emotional jolt. I can’t go through it twice in one weekend, but if you feel like bringing that upon yourself, have at it.

Of course, by the beginning of that scene, I am already a bit of a wreck because of Moonlight Graham and the greatness of both Burt Lancaster and Frank Whaley (one of my favorite actors). I’m also not watching this again, but I feel obligated to post the clip, because it is one of the best scenes you’re ever gonna find in a movie. Every single person is great.

So, despite its lack of “SCTV” cast members and a scene involving peanuts/penis, “Field of Dreams” is most definitely the better end of this double feature, and the one more likely to end with me sitting on a couch and crying (though if you forced me to watch “Speed Zone” a few more times, that could change). But both movies have, for different reasons, stayed with me over the years, and it wasn’t entirely unpleasant to watch them again 25 years after they made their way into the world. They’re actually a pretty good representation of the silly and sentimental pieces of the complex puzzle that is me. So that’s something, huh?

You want my penis?


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