Used Cars Review
Rudy Russo (Kurt Russell) is a used-car salesman with higher political ambitions. He's trying to raise enough money to fund his own senatorial bid, however, he is not having much success. As luck would have it, his boss Luke (Jack Warden) has agreed to finance the remainder of his funding, despite being caught up in a family-feud with his twin brother Roy (also Jack Warden), who owns a rival used-car lot across the road. Roy wants to buy Luke out, but Luke isn't interested, and so Roy sets out on a plan to kill Luke, which will therefore see him inheriting the lot as the next of kin. Roy is successful, but Rudy refuses to admit that Luke is dead, and takes over the running of the car lot, causing a full-out war between the him and Roy, in which the pair resort to zany efforts in order to attract customers.
Used Cars, whilst not the best effort in Kurt Russell's, Bob Gale's or Robert Zemeckis' career, is certainly a winning comedy that maintains a consistent level of amusement throughout. The idea of two used-car dealers embarked in a feud doesn't set off fireworks or indeed suggest any comic potential, so kudos to Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis for turning the concept into an inspired dose of feel-good comedy. The big punch-lines are spread evenly throughout the film, and the smaller jokes in between help to serve up the bigger pay-offs.
The character of Rudy is the key to the success of Used Cars, and he is brilliantly played by Kurt Russell, an actor whose action-hero roles seem to have diminished the public's awareness of the fact that he is an exceptional actor who can easily transcend genres. Rudy has political ambitions, and although he is one hundred percent focused on his senatorial quest, Gale and Zemeckis do not portray him as slimy or distrustful. It's because Rudy is likeable and essentially the film's only true 'hero' that the audience sides so easily with him, and this is thanks mainly to Kurt Russell's iconic grin. Jack Warden has great fun contrasting good and evil in the form of the twin brothers Luke and Roy, and his performances are so good you often forget that the same actor plays the brothers. Deborah Harmon is the token love interest for Rudy's affections, but for the most part her character isn't required.
Gale and Zemeckis possess the required skills to script situations that not only have a life of their own, but also serve as fuel for later plot events. This isn't surprising when you consider they penned the Back To The Future trilogy, films that seemed to be more than two steps ahead of the audience at all times. One of the funniest moments in Used Cars stems from Rudy telling a customer that at this price his boss will have a heart attack, and the punch-line to this scene is one of the most confident and hilarious sequences to come out of early-eighties' Hollywood comedy. Furthermore, some of the situations that occur in the film are so farcical that they destined to fail, and yet somehow Zemeckis as a director pulls it off, primarily because he takes it seriously even if he knows the on-screen proceedings are funny. The editing never stops to let the audience laugh, forever pushing on to the next sequence.
Sure, the film has a distinctly dated visual exterior that diminishes its comedy-classic status, but many would argue that this adds to Used Cars charm. It also contains a more raunchy tone compared to the mainstream comedy of today, with a few nude bodies on show and a high amount of swearing, but again, this seems to work for rather than against the film. Also, the film manages to poke some required jibes at the White House administration, when Rudy and his colleagues manage to hijack the airwaves during a presidential announcement, and turns Carter's speech into part of his car lot's advertising campaign. Zemeckis and Gale are clearly obsessed with presenting their opinion of Reagan being a presidential joke, considering they spoof the concept of the actor becoming a president in Back To The Future. You only have to look at the character of Rudy, a used-car salesman who wants to be a senator, to know what type of person Gale and Zemeckis believe run for office.
Frankly, Used Cars is an underrated comedy classic from the early eighties, a period in which films such as Airplane! and This Is Spinal Tap launched a new form of alternative spoof comedy. Used Cars clearly looks back towards the seventies' form of comedy as opposed to forward to the eighties, but it still works as a film exceptionally well, and it has lost none of its understated charm more than twenty years after it was released.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1, the transfer contains many elements of dirt and grain but is still a decent improvement on any of the TV or VHS presentations of the film. The colours are less saturated and gloomy on DVD and the images are sharper than previous formats' presentations. Generally, this is a decent presentation, and the contrast is set to a pleasing level.
Presented in mono, the sound mix is obviously one channel and undistinguished, but still complements the film's unrefined charm. Sound events and music all sit comfortably together on the one channel, and on the whole the mono track doesn't need to be improved upon.
Menu: A silent and static menu that features a few promotional images from the film.
Packaging: Presented in an amaray casing with original cover artwork and a four page booklet insert that contains brief production notes and chapter listings.
Audio Commentary With Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale & Kurt Russell: This screen-specific commentary is a real treat, as Kurt Russell is a fabulous participant on any commentary, and here re-teamed with Zemeckis and Gale is on top form. The three talk as if they are pals meeting up after a few years, and the jokes, off-screen anecdotes and general amusing antics seem to fill the whole of the commentary. The three are honest about the film's lack of spark when it came to box office ignition and still talk about Used Cars with fond memories. This is a brilliant commentary, and a perfect companion to the film.
Outtakes: This is a blurry, four-minute collection of scenes trimmed from the film, and because they lack explanation as to where they slot into the film the scenes are mostly useless.
TV-Spot: A bizarre advert/TV Spot in which the real-life owner of the car lot used in the film is featured in a commercial advertising his lot, with the help of Kurt Russell, who not only helps with the car selling but also promotes Used Cars!
Radio Spots: A decent collection of radio spots used to advertise the film, featuring a five minute radio interview with Kurt Douglas and a humourous extended phone message radio spot. Eight are included in total.
Vintage Advertising Gallery: A collection of still images featuring promotional shots from the movie as well as the film's poster artwork campaign.
Trailers: Although the trailer for Used Cars is bizarrely not included, the trailers for So I Married An Axe Murdered, Multiplicity and Groundhog Day are instead.
Filmographies: Selected filmographies are presented as text on screen for the main members of the cast and crew.
An underrated comedy gem from the early eighties is given a decent if sparse collection of extras that raises the collectable value of the DVD package a couple of levels. If you are a fan of the film, this DVD, mainly because of the commentary, is a must-own, and if you have never seen it, chances are that Used Cars will appeal to most comedy lovers.