Kurt Russell is charming and energetic as Rudy Russo an Arizona car salesman who sees sales as a springboard to the state senate. His nemesis Roy L. Fuchs is the twin brother of his boss Luke who is entertainingly played by Jack Warden in a dual role. Luke is bumped off by his nefarious brother who has designs on his car lot but Rudy decides to hide the death from the authorities, which is dandy until Luke’s long-lost daughter played by Deborah Harmon appears as the fly-in-the-ointment and romantic interest.
The supporting cast provide varying turns with Gerrit Graham as an insanely superstitious colleague playing with rabbit’s feet and lucky charms whilst steadfastly refusing to have anything to do with red cars. Meanwhile The Munsters‘ Al Lewis as an enjoyably deranged hanging judge is the catalyst to the film’s chaotic climax. The execution of this vehicular cattle drive is suitably noisy and bruising incorporating all of the leads and several hundred eager volunteers, and represents the sort of health and safety cinematic nightmare that was a signature for older action flicks.
Combining the Blues Brothers lunacy of multi-vehicle mayhem and slightly sleazy overtones of such classics as Kentucky Fried Movie and other sketch based ribaldry, Used Cars is clearly an early entry in Robert Zemeckis’ career. What is significantly harder to fathom is that the writer/director team on this action/comedy would be responsible for Back to the Future merely five years later. There is barely any of the world-building or adventurous plotting from Bob Gale in this predictable, uneven and overlong tale of the world of car salesmen.
The only commonality between the two movies is the attribution of destructive acts to Iranian terrorists which in a film about car salesmen is some feat. There are several other missteps which serve to undermine the playful flights of automotive fancy and the free-form approach to film-making which is outlined in the director’s commentary is apparent in the lack of technical competence in some sequences (crew visible in opening scene).
Used Cars provides a glimpse into the forgotten world of Hollywood and the bravery of the stuntmen and women who scraped by as integral but undervalued cogs in the dream machine. The stunts may be of a smaller scale but they have heft and consequence instead of digital gloss and impermanence.
Available on Blu-ray from Mon 12 Aug 2019.