Speed Zone, also known as Cannonball Run III or simply Cannonball Fever, released in 1989, is the third and final installment of The Cannonball Run series of movies. Like the first two films, it is a comedy set around an illegal cross-country race (inspired by the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash).
This time, the premise is that all the racers are arrested before the race begins, and the sponsors have to quickly line up new racers. It has a different director and cast (except for Jamie Farr) from the original two films.
Speed Zone stars many alumni of SCTV, including John Candy, Eugene Levy, and Joe Flaherty. The cast includes Donna Dixon, Matt Frewer, Tim Matheson, Mimi Kuzyk, Melody Anderson, Shari Belafonte, Brian George, Art Hindle, Dick Smothers, Tom Smothers, Peter Boyle, Don Lake, John Schneider, Lee Van Cleef, Harvey Atkin, Michael Spinks, Brooke Shields, Alyssa Milano, Louis Del Grande, Richard Petty and Carl Lewis.
Jamie Farr cameos as "Sheik Abdul ben Falafel", who says in an interview that he is retiring from racing. Farr and his character are the only actor and character to appear in all three films of the Cannonball Run movie universe.
John Schneider makes a cameo as the driver of the Lamborghini Countach at the beginning of the movie while being chased by an assortment of police cars, and is seen wearing an orange racing suit with a Confederate flag on it, a nod toThe Dukes of Hazzard character Schneider played.
Lee Van Cleef, in one of his final appearances, is in the same scene playing an old man teaching his son how to skip stones on a pond as the Lamborghini drives past.
An assortment of people gather at a countryside inn in preparation for the infamous "Cannonball Run," an illegal three-day cross-country race from Washington DC to Santa Monica, where the winner and five runners-up will receive $1 million. However, the hot-headed Washington chief of police Spiro T. Edsel (Peter Boyle), along with his long-suffering sidekick Whitman (Don Lake), arrests all of the drivers to prevent the race from happening. As a result, sponsors must find replacement drivers by the next day.
Gus Gold (Eugene Levy), seeing that his old school rival, Charlie (John Candy), has driving skills while working as a parking valet, bullies him into driving his BMW. Gold also persuades Charlie to bring along Tiffany (Donna Dixon), a dim-witted Marilyn Monroe-esque actress.
Vic (Joe Flaherty) is a hitman-for-hire sent to kill Alec (Matt Frewer), an English deadbeat and compulsive gambler who has squandered money that he borrowed from loan sharks. Alec convinces Vic to ride with him, hoping to win the Cannonball Run and pay off the various mobsters. They team up in a Jaguar XJ-12.
Lee (Melody Anderson) and Margaret (Shari Belafonte) take over a Ferrari Daytona Spyder after the driver they are trying to woo is arrested. MIT graduates into electronics and gadgets, they are tempted by the prize money and the challenge.
When the driver of the Lamborghini is arrested, a skittish Italian porter named Valentino (Brian George) is forced to drive it by Flash (Art Hindle), an ex-cop who wants the money for his own reasons.
Nelson and Randolph Van Sloan (Dick Smothers and Tom Smothers), two millionaires and the only drivers not arrested in the police sweep, enter in a Bentley Corniche convertible. They spend most of their time trying to secretly catch a flight to Los Angeles in order to win by dirty means.
Following all are a pair of TV reporters, Heather (Mimi Kuzyk) and Jack (Tim Matheson), who get so caught up in the action that they decide to race their Ford news van.
<In hot pursuit is Spiro T. Edsel, who grows increasingly insane in his unsuccessful efforts to stop the racers. Edsel and his men manage to arrest Vic and Alec, who quickly escape and steal the police car. Edsel and Whitman chase after them in their Jaguar.
By the end, Edsel and Whitman happen to win the Cannonball Run at the end of the Santa Monica Pier, followed by Vic and Alec in their stolen police car. Charlie and Tiffany driving the BMW finish third, Lee and Margaret fourth, Heather and Jack fifth, Flash and Valentino sixth, with the Van Sloan brothers coming in last while riding on roller skis.
The end credits features the cast playfully driving bumper cars.
The film received negative reviews from critics and was nominated for three Golden Raspberry Awards including Worst Picture and Worst Director, with Brooke Shieldswinning Worst Supporting Actress. The very brief cameo by Shields has her playing herself, saying that she hopes not to end up being in "lousy movies." Famed Chicago film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert reviewed Speed Zone on their nationwide-broadcast film review show Siskel & Ebert. They both aggressively hated it, Siskel calling the film "so venal it doesn't even try to be good. An atrocious excuse for entertainment. I'm sorry I had to see it." and Ebert saying "There were no laughs at all – not one. I sat in the theater for 95 minutes and nobody laughed even one time – because this movie is not funny. This movie is pathetic and to be ashamed of."Ebert gave the film zero stars in his review for the Chicago Sun-Times.
The film was released in North America on VHS in 1990 by Media Home Entertainment. The Media release of "Speed Zone" was issued on laserdisc by Image Entertainment (#ID7192ME; $39.95) for U.S. and Canadian markets in 1990. In Japan, the film was released on laserdisc by Towa-Pioneer and packaged as "The Cannonball Run III Speed Zone." The Japanese disc release did not feature an on-screen credit "The Cannonball Run III," but carried the same "Speed Zone" on-screen credit as found in the North American release.