Film Score: Patrick Williams Cinematography: Donald M. Morgan
Starring: Kurt Russell, Jack Warden, Deborah Harmon and Gerrit Graham
Used Cars is one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen. I know that in the past twenty years there have been plenty of “dumb” comedies, most of them perpetrated on the public by former cast members of Saturday Night Live, but this is something different. There is an intelligence and wit to this film that is utterly lacking in ninety percent of the moronic comedies foisted on audiences today. This was an early effort by writer-director Robert Zemeckis, filmed between the light-hearted Beatles comedy I Wanna Hold Your Hand and his breakout film Romancing the Stone. This film not only has great writing but the considerable talents of Kurt Russell as well as the amazing Jack Warden in a dual role.
Kurt Russell works as a used car salesman in a lot owned by Jack Warden as Luke Fuchs. Russell, however, wants to transition into politics and is saving up money to run for the state senate. Warden offers to loan Russell the money, but before he can do it his twin brother Roy, also played by Warden, learns that a freeway is going to be built over his own lot, which is across the street. Roy knows that his brother has a bad heart, and sends a demolition driver over to test drive a car. When the excitement kills Luke, Roy is sure he’ll inherit the lot, but he doesn’t know that Luke’s daughter has rolled into town looking for him. Russell and his co-workers, however, have already buried Luke on the lot and begin a campaign of jamming network television to put their own illegal commercials on the air to drum up business so Russell can earn the money.
But that’s just the beginning of the mayhem. When Deborah Harmon shows up as Luke’s estranged daughter she thinks that he left because of her. Russell needs her to stay, though, to inherit the lot so Roy can’t get his hands on it. Both David Lander and Michael McKean, after finishing their run on Laverne and Shirley, appear as the TV hackers who hijack the broadcasts to put on their commercials. The other salesman at the lot is Gerrit Graham, a superstitious womanizer who is a great foil for Russell, while Frank McRae plays the mechanic who always falls asleep with a blowtorch in his hand. Across the lot Joe Flaherty plays Roy’s lawyer and the great Al Lewis is hanging Judge Harrison who has to decide if Harmon lied on her legit commercial after she kicked the rest of the guys off the lot. In the end, she has to trust Russell and the two hundred and fifty car race to the end is beautifully done.
Zemeckis has a very distinctive directing style, and the look of this film is very much like that of Back to the Future a few years later. Warden was never onscreen with himself as the brothers, so Zemeckis didn’t have to dip into his special effects bag of tricks, but the idea is the same and seems just as impressive. Russell is the perfect protagonist for the slick, quick-talking salesman, and there are some gut-busting sight gags involved with the broken down cars on the lot. What’s puzzling is that Deborah Harmon didn’t go on to bigger and better things. She’s a terrific comedic talent but became mired in TV work after that. Everyone else in the cast has had fairly successful careers and that’s another great aspect of the film, the star-power that could never be afforded these days. Used Cars is a small film, but incredibly artistic and well-paced comedy, thoroughly enjoyable and highly recommended.