Used Cars

Year: 1980
Studio: Columbia
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Producer: Bob Gale
Writer: Robert Zemeckis/Bob Gale
Cast: Kurt Russell, Jack Warden, Cleavon Little, Michael McKean, Deborah Flaherty, Joe Flaherty, Alfonso Arau, Wendie Jo Sperber, Mark McClure, Dick Miller

There's only one reason to watch this movie, the same reason you watched THX-1138, the original Frankenweenie short or The Sugarland Express – to see where one of today's most commercial directors came from.

The financial performance of this movie was the reason Bob Zemeckis was in movie jail for the first half of the 1980s and would have gone nowhere without Spielberg in his corner championing Back to the Future. And to be perfectly honest, it didn't deserve much more than the response it got. As a comedy it has a handful of laughs that might have amused you if you'd caught it on TV as a kid in the 80s, but it belongs in the same VHS bargain bin as Any Which Way But Loose and The Cannonball Run II.

Kurt Russell looks like barely a kid playing fast talking Rudy, the sales manager of a suburban car yard with ambitions of moving into politics. His boss and the yard's owner, Luke (Jack Warden), is in a fierce rivalry with his own twin brother Roy (also Warden) who runs a bigger, better appointed car yard directly across the street and who wants Luke's property badly, and will stoop to any underhanded level to get it, including killing his own brother.

With Luke gone, it's up to Rudy and the rest of the employees to save the lot, and doing so involves one madcap scheme after another to one-up Roy and his crooked councilman partner across the road to stay afloat, and all while Rudy romances Luke's daughter Barbara (Deborah Harmon).

The gang resort to everything from strippers and circuses to hijacking the local TV station to broadcast their own ads that are decidedly family-unfriendly (watch for an equally teenage-looking Michael McKean as one of the broadcast tech guys).

The climax, as dozens of driving school students bring 200 cars across the desert towards the lot in a breakneck race to save it – is impressive on a technical level, and much like the police chase from The Blues Brothers you've got to appreciate the stunt choreography that went into it.

But it's not enough to save a so-so premise with a so-so script. It's structurally very flabby and like a lot of comedies from any era, just not terribly funny. I think Zemeckis and producer/writing partner Bob Gale must have hoped it would coast on Russell's charm to some extent and he's indeed bursting with affable energy, but it's not enough to save this.

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