Over the years, many comedic ensembles have assembled for cross-country racing movies like It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Cannonball Run, Speed Zone, Rat Race, etc.—grim, cautionary tales that disquieted audiences with their graphic portrayal of traffic accidents, and drivers who have a reckless disregard for traffic laws. But now, after so much blood and wacky costumes have been spilled, director Gore Verbinski has hit upon an idea that could make this premise funny: using driverless cars to remove the element of danger, finally making it safe to laugh.
Deadline reports that Verbinski and The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty writer Steve Conrad are developing a pitch for Sony under the working, already-hilarious title Driverless Car Race, which concerns a contest between software companies who are vying to get their beta model driverless cars from Paris to Beijing. Verbinski says that he’ll fill those cars with “the funniest comedic actors of this generation,” as those actors are finally freed from constraints of avoiding a twisted, fiery death and allowed to just tell some jokes. Just imagine how much funnier Burt Reynolds would have been in Cannonball Run if he’d been allowed to sit passively in the back and offer his humorous observations on life, rather than worrying about the road.
“We want to invert the whole premise of a road trip where the promise has always been, ‘anything can happen’, and say, ‘What if anything can’t happen?’” says Conrad, correctly identifying that the mark of good comedy is its total lack of spontaneity. No doubt it’s a lesson Conrad learned from his upcoming road trip movie Unfinished Business, in which Vince Vaughn, Dave Franco et al. are beset by grim, exhausting setbacks, and no one is laughing.
However, Driverless Car Race is not only about the hilarity of sitting perfectly still in an automobile that’s going the speed limit: Verbinski also sees it as a chance to explore “the classic ‘Man Against Machine’” conflict, as the passengers revolt, the “vehicles head off the road and off the grid,” and the film takes its more traditional dark turn into grim depictions of automotive mishaps. And after we spend 90 minutes worrying for those imperiled comedic actors, we’ll all leave ready to sign up for the driverless cars that can at last take away the unpredictability that ruins our enjoyment of life.