Used Cars Review

Used Cars Review

Used Cars (1980)
Dir: robert zemeckis | Cast: Frank McRae, Gerrit Graham, jack warden, Kurt Russell | Writers: Bob Gale, Robert Zemeckis

Kurt Russell is Rudy Russo, the top salesman at the New Deal used car lot run by Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden). Caught up in a crazy feud between Luke and his brother Roy (also Jack Warden) who runs the rival car lot across the street, Rudy must put his grifting skills into overdrive as the battle for sales supremacy escalates into all-out war! 

A film produced by Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, Steven Spielberg, Gale Ann Hurd... Clearly we’re here to talk about Back to the Future, that classic slice of ultimate feel-good Americana. Hold on. Used Cars? A raucous comedy in the tradition of Hal Needham’s Smokey and the Bandit or It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World? Heck, turns out those movies pulled punches Zemeckis is willing to land.

Perhaps you’re well acquainted with Used Cars; there’s a lot of affection out there for it, but if you’re coming to this new like me, dive in, it’s great fun. Eureka!’s prestige treatment of such a mongrel is not misplaced (the limited edition booklet includes a positive review by the great Pauline Kael, for goodness sake). And actually, if you dig a little, it is very much a Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale film.

The more anarchic threads of Who Framed Roger Rabbit or Back to the Future are here and the latter is, after all, a story about a mum trying to sleep with her own son after an old man steals nuclear fuel to power a time machine built from an eccentric sports car. I’ve always said Spielberg has a spiteful and cynical streak for which he doesn’t receive enough credit, largely because he scratches that itch through his producer credits and keeps his own reputation more pure (he did direct Zemeckis and Gale’s 1941 script, which just underlines the point and makes me want to reassess that mess). Jurassic Park and Jaws have their gleefully gory moments, but Used Cars is rotten to its bones and bloody hilarious too. 

Used Cars is very much a film of its time, but the incredible cast sell it, despite being upstaged by Toby the dog. Jack Warden (12 Angry Men, The Verdict) in two roles is a delight and Kurt Russell, yet to explode with The Thing or Escape From New York might have been playing a gamble, post-Elvis and Disney, but he’s having a great time. Can you do anything else in a film that casts Grandpa Munster (Al Lewis) as a Judge? The very silly gags come thick and fast, sexual politics are dated as hell, and you might hate yourself for laughing as much as you will. It’s an honest film though and despite the cynical plot (there’s no hero; everyone is out for what they can get), it’s not in the least bit mean-spirited.

The whole plot is one big gag and it pays off. Several blatant threads come crunching together in hundreds of cars, more akin to Blues Brothers, Smokey, or Cannonball Run, and desert fights across vehicles to rival Mad Max. Ok, “rivals” is doing a lot of heavy lifting here, but the ambition is unlimited and it’s all up there on screen. Used Cars, this daft little film, wins a place amongst petrol-head exploitation flicks.

VIDEO
You know how some of the remastered prestige releases from Eureka!, Criterion and Arrow really pop and look brand new? That’s not quite Used Cars, but it still looks fantastic given its age and whispered reputation. Photography is soft and generally consistent but for one dodgy brief early shot of Jack Warden.

AUDIO
There’s a choice between LPCM Mono or a 5.1 DTS HD Master, which is a great remix. It really benefits the bombastic music (for which there is an isolated track and an interesting story) and occasionally gives the film that wide-open, middle-America Spielbergian feel that we’d also come to associate with Zemeckis, along with the sense that this little film is very capable of punching above its weight.

SPECIAL FEATURES
Audio Commentary: Ben Affleck, Armageddon. Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, Evil Dead. Tim Burton failing to unravel to plot of his own Planet of the Apes remake. To this list of classic commentaries, we should add Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale and Kurt Russell having a whale of a time discussing Used Cars. The track starts with raucous laughing and doesn't let up from there, but against all odds they get a ton of insight too. It can be as funny as the film. On hiring extras: “15 bucks a day, bring your own car!”. This is glorious stuff that continues to justify the Blu-ray market.

Isolated Score Track and Unused Ernest Gold Score. Unused for a reason, as Zemeckis explains.

Would you buy a used car from these men? 27 minute making of with Bob Gale.

Radio interview with Kurt Russell

Outtakes and Gag Reel

Kurt Russell Chrysler Commercial

Radio spots

Stills galleries

Original Theatrical TrailerLimited Edition Collector’s Booklet (first print run only and is a great read, with new essays by Scott Harrison and Phil Hoad. Also features that review by the great Pauline Kael).

Film
8 out of 10
Video
7 out of 10
Audio
7 out of 10
Extras
8 out of 10
Overall

Early Robert Zemeckis and a gem of a cynical American comedy with Kurt Russell in hilarious form, plus the best audio commentary for years.

8

out of 10

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