Movie review: ‘Used Cars’

usedcarsThe 1980s saw the beginning of the explosion of the loud, gross-out, profane and over-the-top adult comedy, from teens to adults acting badly. The more puerile the humor, the better. As a 20-something, I loved them and saw each one in the theater — HBO was in its infancy and the videotape was about to explode onto the scene. Today, I still love them. I believe “Porky’s” (click here for my review), “Police Academy” and “The Hollywood Knights” (click here for my review) was part of the inspiration for later franchises (say, “American Pie”), and still there’s a mostly forgotten gem called “Used Cars” that will leave you on the floor. It is sharp, snappy and insults highbrows to no end. It’s my kind of film.

‘Used Cars’
(1980; 113 minutes; rated R; directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Kurt Russell, Jack Warden and Gerrit Graham)

TRUST HIM

(NOTE: I expanded this review and updated links on July 31, 2015. I did not change any of the opinion from its original posting.)

It’s always great to go back and watch a film you know without a doubt is fall-down funny. It’s even better when that film is even funnier than you remember. For myself, “Used Cars” fits that bill unequivocally after I just watched it again for the first time 15 years (that was my original writing and I watched it yet again as I expanded this review more than a year later).

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Not only does “Used Cars” offer creativity and excellent comedic acting and timing, it also uses well-known TV actors (“Laverne & Shirley’s” “Lenny” and “Squiggy”) and a blast furnace full of profanity that is the almost surreal icing on this cake.

Two-time Oscar nominee Jack Warden does the twin-bit playing a pair of brothers on opposite sides of the street (literally) and manages to be soft and human as the good brother and then blusters outrageous as the evil twin. Plus, his work isn’t the best acting job here.

In “Used Cars,” former Disney teen star Kurt Russell is the garrulous, smooth hyper-salesman “Rudy Russo.” He wants to become a crooked politician to become even more crooked rich. As the film opens, he’s stuck at “New Deal” used cars doing things like baiting customers with money tied to a fishing rod’s string. He’s working hard to come up with the cash “contribution” to the local party machine for the election nomination that will land him a jackpot of corruption.

Enter Warden, who plays both the owner of the used car lot and his evil twin brother who has the competing lot across the street. The sleazy brother uses a driving trick to kill Russell’s boss with a heart attack. Russell and the guys at New Deal then band together to save it, even as the owner’s daughter has come back into his life and into the picture.

The film is a great series of vignettes of comedy, from the early scene of burying Warden in an Edsel to hide the fact that he died to the two times New Deal’s tech geniuses (TV icons “Lenny” and “Squiggy” from the TV classic series “Laverne & Shirley”) hijack live TV signals, once during a football game and the second during a speech by President Carter. They use the free TV time as live commercials for the car lot.

Heck, even “Toby” the dog is funny as well disgusting (canine urination is a staple of funny, just watch TruTV today) and the director has been quoted as saying the pooch was the meanest he ever worked with.

Although the supporting cast does an outstanding job, including Al Lewis, who was “Grandpa Munster” in “The Munsters,” it’s Russell who rules the roost. In one scene with Deborah Harmon, who plays “Barbara Fuchs” (the good Warden’s daughter), he just gives the punch line (“Don’t ask me. I’m just a farmer!”). You laugh simply because you KNOW it was dirty and hilarious.

Russell just keeps coming at you throughout the film. From a disco dancing scene with strippers on top of the New Deal used cars to just sitting in a courtroom mouthing the word “lie” to Harmon as she’s being questioned by the judge played by Lewis, you just want the movie to go on and on. The best part is that Russell’s character is loyal and doesn’t turn his back on New Deal even when he has the chance of his lifetime.

The f-bombs fly frequently on this airline (an early frontrunner in the most f-bomb category until the 1990s saw carpet-bombings in films with the word and Martin Scorsese fell in love with Joe Pesci), but the rest draws attention even more.

Nearly matching Russell’s is co-star Gerrit Graham, who plays psychotically superstitious salesman “Jeff,” who believes it’s the worst luck in the world to be in, much less sell, a red car. The red car quirk plays havoc in the TV football scene as well as in the climax of “Used Cars.”

Russell and Graham have a buddy at the car lot and its burly Frank McRae, who plays “Jim” the mechanic and a central figure in all the hijinks. McRae easily holds his own with the others.

For Michael McKean and David L. Lander, the former “Lenny” and “Squiggy” playing “Eddie” and “Freddie” respectively, they are the nerdy tech guys who are twisted enough to hang with this crowd (although Russell has to remind them how they have to leave the office, “Guys, the back door. It’s still light outside.”). In fact, they are so high-tech that Lander has himself installed a pacemaker in McKean’s chest (another wonderful vignette).

The Munsters” veteran Lewis’ judge is just as odd as anyone else in the film, especially when he uses his fingers to walk up a model of a gallows, which is one of several execution device models on his court bench (an electric chair, guillotine and stocks round out the lethal group).

After all is considered, the single funniest scene is where the guys hijack the TV broadcast of President Carter’s speech. Graham, dressed as “Marshal Lucky,” shoots up the bad Warden’s used cars and then blasts one with dynamite after commenting on its price, “That’s too #$^%ing high!” Graham puts you on the floor with this one. It is truly not to be missed.

Used Cars” was the 56th ranked film at theaters with $11.7 million in ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo. It was made on a budget of $8 million, according to Wiki. The No. 1 film was “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back” with $209.3 million. Here are some films from that year that I have reviewed:

Here are some cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014-2015.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without
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full and clear credit is given to Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples
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