The Gumball Rally – Blu-ray Review

The Movie (3/5)

Sometimes I focus too much on movies with intricate plots, layered emotion, and character development. I continually thirst for complex movies, which leads me to forget that sometimes, with the proper execution, a simple concept can lay the foundation for a great movie. Something as simple as a race, or a car chase can win the day, if done with enough charm and humor. The Gumball Rally, a 1976 Warner Bros. release directed by Charles Bail, attempts to do just that.

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The Gumball Rally is the story of a group of seemingly unconnected people who are all brought together when Michael Bannon, executive at an unnamed candy company, gets bored during a meeting and puts the word out: gumball. Using his extensive network of communication, he assembles a motley crew of racers and cars to join in on this year’s “Gumball Rally,” a cross country race from New York City to Long Beach in California. The members of the race are then unleashed on the roads of the United States as they attempt to do everything possible to one up each other and take the Gumball Prize, all the while being chased down by incompetent police officer Lieutenant Roscoe, who has taken it upon himself to ruthless hunt down and stop the Gumball Rally contestants from running their race at all costs.

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The Gumball Rally might have one of the most efficient opening acts I’ve ever come across as a film critic. Without any unnecessary exposition, we are treated to the film equivalent of knocking down an elaborately laid set of dominoes, that all fall in the most effective and engaging manner. In its opening minutes, we see Bannon, participant in the race and organizer of the event, get up from his day job at a candy company, and put out the word, “gumball.” We are then treated to an amusing sequence in which the call to the contestants filters down to various corners of the country, and get to tag along as they scramble to all meet conspicuously in New York City for the start of the race. It’s a lean sequence in which no minute is spared to explain the obvious to the audience, and for such a simple concept, it treats its audience with a surprising amount of respect. The rules are then quickly laid out, and the race begins. It’s as simple as that.

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Unfortunately for the participants in the Gumball Rally, this introductory sequence is also the most finely tuned and engaging part of the entire movie. The rest of the movie that follows is a film that tries its best to fill itself to the brim with slapstick comedy and wit, but moves far too slowly for half the jokes to pay off in any significant way. It’s only 105 minutes long, but in playback it felt like it was two, or two and a half hours long. This does not bode well for for a high speed, high intensity charge across mainland United States. For example, there is a joke towards the end of the movie where two of the racers, who are racing in a beat up cop car, get caught in the act of impersonating a police officer. Rather than come up with something quick and clever, the script just lingers way too long on a setup where the two racers try to convince the cop that they’re shooting a movie, and by the time the joke is supposed to pay off and be funny, it just falls flat. There are numerous moments like this peppered throughout the film.

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That’s not to say that the movie is entirely devoid of humor however. There are a few moments where I found myself quite amused with the movie, especially during the film’s final moments as Lieutenant Roscoe pulls off his final revenge, and Gary Busey’s character Gibson, attempts a disastrous attempt at two wheeling his Camaro, and a few running gags throughout the movie that pay off after a long wait. It just feels like one of those movies with more misses than hits unfortunately.

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Where it fails in an attempt to be comedic however, it does succeed in being an ambitious, scenic race across America. Featuring a massive ensemble cast with the likes of Michael Sarazzin as Bannon, Nicholas Pryor as Sam Graves, Tim McIntire as Steve Smith, Raul Julia as Franco Bertollini, and over a dozen other players, the movie is at its best when it shows all of these racing teams doing what they do best: simple racing. There are moments where the teams are just speeding down the highway, trying to pass each other or make their way through a specific checkpoint that are way more satisfying than anything the movie attempts to do in terms of straight comedy. It’s like at times the creative team tried to hard to imitate its predecessors such as The Great Race, or It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World that are major race movies, but also successful comedies, and forgets that it can be fun just by letting loose and creating engaging race sequences to thrill audiences.

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The Gumball Rally tries too hard to be funny, and sometimes forgets to focus on the fact that it’s a rip roaring race across the United States. Director Charles Bail and his creative team do a great job of shooting an engaging race movie, but trip and fall down the stairs in an attempt to also make it a comedy. It’s all too clear where their strengths lie, and the reluctance to embrace such strengths makes the movie slow and occasionally painful on the way down. If anything, the film should be remembered not for standing on its own two feet, but for ushering in an era of successful car racing films throughout the years after its release, such as Smokey and the Bandit and The Cannonball Run, as well as several real life races inspired by the events of the film.  

The Video (5/5)

The Gumball Rally was shot on 4-perf 35mm film with Panavision anamorphic lenses, resulting in a projected aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Sourced from a brand new HD master prepared by the Warner Archive group, the film is presented in 1080p resolution in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1.

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Qualms with the film aside, The Gumball Rally has been presented here in spectacular fashion. From the moment the image hits the screen to that point where the credits roll, we are treated here to a transfer that features a sharp image, fine detail in close ups and mid shots with less exaggerated depth of field, and sharp, well defined film grain that lends the video an authentic look. Colors come off as natural, highlighting the golden yellows, earthy browns, and nicely saturated greens and blues that make up the backdrop for our race across America. Nighttime exteriors are lit well and have excellent contrast. The film has been expertly cleaned by the Warner Archive crew in preparation for this release, and as far as my eye could tell, there was not a compression artifact in sight.

The Audio (4/5)

The Gumball Rally was originally presented in theaters using a mono optical soundtrack on film prints. To recreate that experience, The Gumball Rally has been presented here in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono.

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In playback, The Gumball Rally is one of the more forceful mono tracks the Archive has laid on the table so far. The roar of these race cars comes through with surprising effect, as part of a track that strikes a fine balance between sound effects and dialogue. The music, which did not leave much of a lasting impression, is probably somewhere down there, but the clear star of this track is its car engines, which make for a pretty engaging mono experience.

Special Features/Packaging (2/5)

The Gumball Rally has been released to Blu-ray by the Warner Archive in a standard Blu-ray keepcase. The front cover features a redesign of the artwork used in the original release poster, a heavily stylized drawing of the race contestants in their cars racing away from New York City with slightly exaggerated proportions under the film’s title.The back artwork features a review quote, two paragraphs about the film, three shots pulled from the movie surrounded by red bored, theatrical credits, and technical specs for the release set against a green spotted white background. Pretty weak packaging for a Warner Archive release. Oh well.

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The only special feature included in this release is the film’s theatrical trailer, as seen in the time period leading up to its original release. Bleh.

Technical Specs (click for technical FAQs)

Video

Region Coding: None

Codec: AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Audio

DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono (English)

Subtitles

English

Runtime: 108 minutes

Overall (3.5/5)

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Ultimately, The Gumball Rally tries too hard to be a modernization of Blake Edwards’ The Great Race, another excellent Warner Archive release, and spends too little trying to carve out its own piece of the pie. The pieces are all lined up so effectively in a brilliant opening sequence, and then it kind of just drops off over the remainder of the 108 minute run time. That’s not to say it isn’t entertaining, because I did enjoy the movie; it just reeks of squandered potential. That being said, the Archive team has done another excellent job bringing a forgotten classic up to speed, with a fantastic 1080p video transfer, and great mono audio. The packaging and lack of serious extras leaves something to be desired, but for fans of the film, this is definitely a worthy release.

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