Sometimes you find yourself enjoying a movie that is so terrible that you cannot describe what the people on screen are doing as “acting” (or you put quote marks around the word). Most often, you’ll look for a sickness bag if you manage to watch movies such as “O.C. and Stiggs” (click here for my review), but today I’ll give you one of those stinkbombs that you can get through: “Moving Violations,” a film from 1985 with a lot of promise and one that falls flat from the first scene. It’s difficult to convey just how crappy this film plays out. Still, like passerby slowdowns after a car wreck, you can watch this one … maybe once.
(1985; 90 minutes; rated PG-13; directed by Neal Israel and starring John Murray, Jennifer Tilly and James Keach)
REALLY A BAD MOVIE, BUT YOU MIGHT ENJOY IT
(NOTE: I expanded this review with a little additional opinion; some more trivia; and the updating of links on April 9, 2017. I again expanded the review on March 29, 2020.)
With a sports analogy I’ll say that “Moving Violations” is a film with good statistics coming into the game. It has a very competent cast, including a rookie with potential; it has a director whose previous film was just the year before with the hysterical “Bachelor Party” featuring Tom Hanks (click here for my review); and it has a creative storyline.
Further they even had it on movie posters as “from the creators of Police Academy.” All in all, it should have added up to a big hit.
Well, what happened to create this train wreck?
Ahem. None of it happened with “Moving Violations.” There’s no other way to describe it: “Moving Violations” is a truly awful film, but like some ugly dogs that are so ugly that they’re cute, it is funny in at least one place and I can imagine several different worse ways you can spend your time than watching it. Please understand that I still enjoy stupid slapstick comedy at any level (especially low) and that my opinion of this one hasn’t evolved because I’ve matured.
OK, in short about the plot, the characters here are bad drivers caught up in traffic school that is nothing but a scam for the judge and one of the police officers. The bad drivers are guaranteed to fail the class, their vehicles are then sold at auction and the judge and the cop pocket the money. Ouch. A plot it is not.
- The leader of the bad-driving pack is John Murray as “Dana Cannon,” a landscaper with a sarcastic sense of humor. Murray, who is comedy legend Bill Murray’s brother, resembles his more famous sibling and sounds like him, but doesn’t measure up to even Bill’s worst performance. For sure he’s likable and the sarcasm is good, but it just doesn’t happen for him – especially since he was most likely looking for this to be his breakout role. Murray had an uncredited role in “Caddyshack” and was in “Scrooged” (both with his brother) and, un fortunately for moviegoers, his acting credits has jumped to 15.
- Clara Peller, of the Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef” commercial fame, is one of the gang here as “Emma Jean” and she winds up in traffic school accompanying her friend who mistakenly drove onto an airport runway in front of a passenger jet (good plot, huh?). Peller’s only amusing scene is where she spouts “Where’s the bag?” at the airport. Her friend, “Loretta Houk” played by Nedra Voltz has one of the few funny lines in the film: While she sits in a urinal in the men’s room, she asks, “Why is my back wet?” Voltz was the butt of a great flatulence joke in “10” (no pun intended and click here for my review) and she died at 94 in in 2003 of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease. Peller was in this single film and had four acting credits including the Wendy’s commercials and passed away at the age of 85 in 1987.
- The only supporting role of note is by veteran TV star and sometime movie tough guy Robert (“The Wild Wild West”) Conrad as “Sheriff Robert Fromm” – and the character uncredited (to give him credit, I don’t believe he wanted his name associated with this horrible film). A Golden Globe nominee (absolutely not for this one), Conrad plays the uptight, by-the-book superior officer who bounces in and out briefly throughout the film. Conrad should have known better and it’s sad a role so small sets the standard here. He was also in “Murph the Surf” (click here for my review) and Hawaiian Eye” on TV. Conrad earned his nomination for TV’s “Baa Baa Black Sheep.” He died at 84 in February 2020 of heart failure.
The two rough-and-randy (yes, I meant randy) cops here are James Keach as “Deputy Henry ‘Hank’ Halik” and Lisa Hart Carroll as “Deputy Virginia Morris.” They’re more than partners although he’s partnering on the side with someone else. Both efforts are wooden and contrived but I don’t blame the actors since this whole film is a mess.
- Unlike for this one, Keach showed his real talent as “Frank James” in the outstanding western “The Long Riders” (click here for my review) as well as two years earlier showing how to really play a motorcycle cop in a comedy with “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” Keach, like the others, should have known better than to do this one. He was also in “Walk the Line” with Joaquin Phoenix.
- Carroll was also in that reprehensible snifflebag “Terms of Endearment” in her brief career of eight roles and she hasn’t notched an acting credit since a TV documentary in 2005. Oh, by the way, thanks to Ray Romano for the “snifflebag” description of such a snifflebag movie.
Moving on …
- The femme fatale here is veteran actor Sally Kellerman, who tries to come off sultry and sexy as “Judge Nedra Henderson” but only manages to look as if she took too many muscle relaxants before shooting began. Sorry, Sally, but you’re not funny or sexy here. Kellerman was also in “MASH” (she was the original “Maj. Margaret ‘Hot Lips’ O’Houlihan” in the movie … the character’s name was changed to “Houlihan” for the TV series and the asterisks in the title were added in the movie posters but not in the film’s credits) as well as “Back to School” (click here for my review) with Rodney Dangerfield.
The only actual truly funny scene in the film is when the two cops see Murray standing next to a car and order him to move it because it’s parked next to fire hydrant. Of course, he refuses and then they plan to write him up for violations such as broken headlights and taillights (which they bust with their nightsticks in order to create the violations). The scene plays out really funny because the car belongs to Conrad. Naturally. You see it coming from a mile off and it’s the only funny full scene in the entire 90 minutes of “Moving Violations” – remember, Peller’s laugh is one line.
The plot gets so downright stupid that there’s a scene where one of the bad drivers comes to believe another (played by funnyman Fred Willard) is a medical doctor. He’s not. He’s a “doctor” of cars. She winds up naked on a rack at his shop. Cue the rimshot, or, rather, don’t cue the rimshot.
So, watch this one only if by a million-to-one chance it crosses your TV screen and you have absolutely no ambition to change the channel. You can also catch it on youtube.com … if you really want to see it.
Amazingly, “Moving Violations” managed to be the 79th ranked film of the year at the box office with $10.6 million, according to Box Office Mojo. I would have thought it easily was in the triple digits. The No. 1 film was “Back to the Future” with $210.6 million and the No. 2 was “Rambo: First Blood Part II” with $150.4 million. However, “Moving Violations” did manage to beat out the equally dreadful “Gymkata,” which is a film about a champion gymnast in some silly competition/spy game which stars real life Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas. He’s even worse than Murray is here (if that’s possible). Here are the other films from 1985 that I’ve reviewed:
- “American Flyers” (terrific) – click here for my review
- “Commando” (cheesy Schwarzenegger) – click here for my review
- “Fletch” (classic comedy) – click here for my review
- “Gotcha!” (underratedly good) – click here for my review
- “Just One of the Guys” (good) – click here for my review
- “O.C. and Stiggs” (pure crap) – click here for my review
- “Prizzi’s Honor” (very good) – click here for my review
- “Real Genius” (terrific comedy) – click here for my review
- “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins” (horrid) – click here for my review
- “Silverado” (super) – click here for my review
- “Target” (excellent) – click here for my review
- “To Live and Die in L.A.” (outstanding) – click here for my review
- “Turk 182!” (very good) – click here for my review
- “Weird Science” (good) – click here for my review
Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):
- Directly from IMDb.com: “Robert Conrad accepted the role of Police Chief in this film because he regretted not taking the role of Commandant Lassard in Police Academy (1984), which was co-written by Neal Israel.” I guess that was two bad decisions for him.
- Don Cheadle would go on to an Oscar nomination for “Hotel Rwanda” and a much better supporting turn as “Cash Money” in “The Family Man” (click here for my review) after playing the “Juicy Burger Worker” character here.
- David Hyde Pierce of TV fame on “Frasier” has a small role here. I won’t mention it further as a nod to his real talent and the fun he brought to his role as “Dr. Niles Crane” on “Frasier.”
- Other actors of note here are Jennifer Tilley and Willard, but I’ll not bore you with their work here. You’ll be bored enough if you watch it.
- Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “Part of a cycle of American cop comedies that got made after the box-office success of Police Academy (1984). The films include that movie’s numerous sequels, Feds (1988), Recruits (1986), Off Beat (1986), Night Patrol (1984), Moving Violations (1985) and Hollywood Vice Squad (1986).”
- Click here to read IMDb.com’s surprisingly extensive page of trivia about “Moving Violations” …
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