Monday, May 03, 2021

Was Frank Sinatra’s Cameo In CANNONBALL RUN II Phoned In?

First of all, for those of you unfamiliar with the phrase “phoned in,” it often doesn’t mean that somebody literary phoned in their performance. It’s defined by Wiktionary as “To fulfill a responsibility with a minimum effort rather than the appropriate level of effort.”

So while the Chairman of the Board, Frank Sinatra, did actually appear onscreen in Hal Needham’s 1984 comedy, CANNONBALL II, it’s been long suspected that he shot his two scenes without any interaction with any of the rest of the cast. This theory posited that angles that required his appearance with his co-stars were shot with a double from behind to simulate his being in the same room.

This has never been confirmed, but it’s hard to think otherwise when watching Sinatra’s brief stint in the film. Legendary critic, Roger Ebert, was possibly the first film scribe to question Sinatra’s contribution:

“The clue to CANNONBALL BALL II is in Frank Sinatra’s first scene, but you have to look carefully. The scene starts in Sinatra’s office, and we’re looking over Sinatra’s head at Burt and some other people. At least, it looks like Sinatra’s head, except there’s something a little funny about the ears.

Then we see Sinatra. He talks. We see Reynolds. He talks. And so on, until, if we know something about movie editing techniques, we realize there isn’t a single shot showing Sinatra and Reynolds at the same time. Also, there's something funny about Sinatra’s voice: He doesn't seem to be quite matching the tone of the things said to him.

That's the final tip-off: Sinatra did his entire scene by sitting down at a desk and reading his lines into the camera, and then, on another day, Reynolds and the others looked into the camera and pretended to be looking at him. The over-the-shoulder shots are of a double.”

Ebert went on to even label the scene, “the movie equivalent to phoning it in,” and that “Refusing to appear in a scene with your fellow actors is no worse than agreeing to appear in a scene that nobody has bothered to write.”

Yet, one can make the case for his involvement as Sinatra is featured in promotional pictures for the movie (like the one above), and appears in the end credits blooper reel, though since his blooper is from the office scene described above in which he’s alone at his desk, it doesn’t prove much.

Sinatra appears in one other scene in CANNONBALL RUN 2, where’s he’s driving a 1984 Dodge Daytona alongside a car containing Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. Again, he’s not in the same shot as his old Rat Pack buddies, so it furthers the idea that he really wasn’t present for his much hyped cameo.

Sadly, except for a voice-only cameo in WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?, this terrible sequel was Sinatra’s final film performance, if you can call it a performance. It was Martin’s last role as well so maybe the Rat Packers picked the right time to get out. Now, I can’t say for sure that Sinatra’s role in CANNONBALL RUN II was phoned in, but it sure looks that way.

The idea that Sinatra may have strategically kept his distance from Burt Reynolds and a should be embarrassed ensemble of B-listers just may be the funniest thing about one of the unfunniest films ever.

More later...

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