Used Cars on DVD
They say you do your best work when you're hungry. Kurt Russell, in his first not-made-for-TV movie role, and director Robert Zemeckis, five years before Back to the Future would forever let him write his own ticket, propel this low-budget feature from something that should have been as inane as an Ernest Goes to . . . project to one of the funniest movies in my collection. The humor is raw and direct, without a politically correct bone in its body, and completely unlike the gross-out humor that passes these days for "audacious."
The kindly, but weak-hearted, Luke Fuchs and his dastardly, greedy brother, Roy, operate used-car dealerships across the street from each other in a dust strip of a desert town. When Roy finds out the new freeway off-ramp won't be exiting across the street into Luke's lot, but into his lot instead, he complains to the assistant deputy district attorney, Sam Slaton (played by Second City's Joe Flaherty), that all his contributions to the mayor's slush fund seem to have been wasted Sam says, "He had no choice, Roy. It's the only way he could prove there was no conflict of interest."
Roy plots to take his brother out and get his hands on what, once the plans become public, will be prime real estate. He sends a demolition-derby driver over to Luke's lot, who subjects Luke to a test drive that would give anyone a heart attack. Roy's plans, however, are still fouled up: First, there's no body, hence no inheritance, because Luke's salesmen, Rudy Russo (Russell), Jeff (Gerrit Graham), and Jim the mechanic (Frank McRae), bury Luke in his car in the back lot and concoct a story about Luke taking off to Florida. They hope to buy some time for Rudy to sell enough cars to pay the local party hack for the party's nomination for a state senate bid. Second, unknown to anyone but the man driving his car underground, Luke's estranged daughter has just called and is coming back to see Dad after having left home 12 years before to join a commune.
Imagine every stereotype of used-car salesmen you can think of and multiply by three—writers Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis have loaded this movie with more gags than a court order. The writing, Zemeckis' superb directing, and the complement of near-perfect actors will have you laughing so loud you'll forever associate Used Cars with milk spritzing from your nostrils. Jack Warden, in his first R-rated feature, plays the parts of both Fuchs brothers—as Roy, he uses language that proves there was some serious pent-up demand being met. Russell is just ingenious, from disco-dancing with a stripper on top of a car to his quick hand-shaking moves as he passes through three different ethnic groups and dialects in less than a minute without missing a beat. Gerrit Graham's character is religiously superstitious, avoiding ladders, spilled salt, and red cars, but somehow slugging through life with nothing but a rabbit's foot on his keychain. Frank McRae's mechanic is a man of few words, but what choice words they are.
The picture quality surprised me. While well short of reference, it's leagues better than the print I saw at the drive-in years ago, and will look outstanding on a 35-inch or smaller set. The two-channel sound is also surprisingly good, especially the stripper music. Finally, after you tire of salting up your glasses with tears of laughter, you can flip on the newly recorded commentary track with Gale, Zemeckis, and Russell, and find out just how wild, adventurous, and risk-taking that crew was back in their salad days.