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USED CARS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Kurt Russell, Gerrit Graham, Frank McRae, Deborah Harmon, Jack Warden
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Audio: Dolby Surround, French & Portuguese Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 113 Minutes
Release Date: February 5, 2002

ď50 bucks never killed anybody.Ē

Film ****

Used Cars is definitive proof that many stars in Hollywood get their start in funny places. For Kurt Russell, it was considered quite a leap from his days as a leading actor in numerous Disney films. He was just coming off the rave reviews he received for his portrayal of Elvis in a successful TV movie. It was also a big step for the director, Robert Zemeckis, whose previous debut film, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, didnít seem to reach an audience. Used Cars, released at the exact same point of Airplane!, couldnít seem to find its deserving response. However, like many failed opportunities, Used Cars found its audience in home video and frequent television airings. I have just seen the film for the first time and now consider it among the funniest films ever made by Hollywood. For a movie released in 1980, I see the movie as one easily ahead of its time. Nearly all of the characters in the piece, protagonist and antagonist, are wickedly despicable in one way or another. If I can recall correctly, there had never been comedy made in a manner like this at the time.

Russell stars as Rudy Russo, a conniving and shady used car salesman, which is run by Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden). The competing dealership across the street is run by Lukeís slimeball twin brother, Roy, also played by Warden. Rudyís true aspiration is to become a state senator, but in order to finance a campaign, he needs $10,000. Luke agrees to front Rudy the money, but then an orchestrated accident occurs. Roy, wanting to claim the title on his brotherís property, has an associate pay a visit to Luke at night, on a so-called ďtest driveĒ. The speeding test results in Luke having a monster heart attack and dropping dead right in front of Rudy in his office, which is just about what Roy was anticipating. What does Rudy then do? Does he call the police, or even an ambulance? Why no, he and his two co-workers Jeff (Gerrit Graham) and Jim the Mechanic (Frank McRae) to place Lukeís corpse in a car, which they will bury in the back of the lot.

Rudy is now in charge of the lot, and with the cash flow problem still on his hands, brings in two technical wizards to help him bring in customers. They intercept such broadcastings as a football game and an address from President Carter with outrageous commercials featuring nothing less than a Playboy Playmate accidentally stripping down to her bare essentials, and a cowboy taking a rifle and blowing holes in Royís cars because the prices are just too high. Itís not just in the commercials where the salesman ignite acts of lunacy. In a remarkable scene of pure lunacy, Jeff places Lukeís beagle, Toby, under a station wagon to stage a phony accident in order to garner a surefire sale.

It soon becomes an all out war of sales between Roy and Rudy, but matters get even more complicated when Lukeís daughter, Barbara (Deborah Harmon), shows up unexpectedly to meet her father, who Rudy says has gone out of town to Miami Beach. What makes it worse is that she happens to be from the Consumer Protection Agency, which would ruin everything for Rudyís little operation.

The climax of the movie is a riotous hoot if Iíve ever seen one, with Rudy bringing in 250 drivers, many of them driverís ed students, to participate in a high speed run to the used car lot in order to excuse a accusation of false advertisement. Itís quite an incredible sequence, filled with outlandish stunts and many laughs, and has to be seen to be believed.

Used Cars is the kind of comedy I immediately respond to. Those with an extreme warped sense of humor will find themselves crying laughter in numerous scenes, like I found myself doing quite frequently. This is a comedic masterpiece that should be experienced at no extra costs. Come on down and check it out, and remember, 50 bucks never killed anybody. 

Video **1/2

This presentation does have its share of image flaws, but they are found mostly in the first half of the movie. Columbia Tri Starís anamorphic presentation is mostly nice looking, especially for a movie that is twenty two years old. Aside from its opening portion, which includes moments of grain and image softness, the rest of the presentation grows much more decent as the rest of the image turn up clean and mostly clear. All in all, what results is a more than acceptable presentation of a movie with a dated print that may have been somewhat difficult to turn up impressively on this format.

Audio **1/2

This disc sounds nice, but seems like all that could be achieved from a twenty two year old movie, much like the level of the video quality. CTS offers solely a 2.0 surround track, which comes in nicely during the climatic auto race and other numerous action sequences. All in all, I couldnít really detect much surround sound in the presentation, but dialogue-wise, what I heard came through both fair and clear.

Features ***1/2

I give this part of the disc an extra rating based on the extremely knockout commentary track that is included. The commentary from Kurt Russell, Robert Zemeckis, and writer/producer Bob Gale ranks as one of the most funny and entertaining commentaries Iíve ever had the pleasure of listening to. The three never stop laughing at both the film itself and the funny reminisces they have of the making of the movie. Russell, in particular, is wonderful to listen to, as he constantly pokes fun at his character right down to the little mannerisms, which I wouldíve have missed if the commentary didnít point out. A downright joy to listen to that should be listened to by all that buy the disc. Also included is an outtakes real, radio spot ads, a TV spot, a photo gallery, and trailers for the CTS releases Groundhog Day, Multiplicity, and So I Married an Axe Murderer.

Summary:

If itís nonstop laughter youíre in dire need of, look no further than the dark lunacy of Used Cars, which I am labeling a newly found comedy classic.