When cineophiles think of classic 80s comedies, I would only hope that Used Cars makes their list. I had the unique opportunity to watch this film, and it took me back to a time when bathroom humor and gross sexual jokes were not needed to create hysterical comedy. It reminded me of a time when spontaneity and simplicity allowed for more laughter than imagined. This was the case with Used Cars. As I am a man in the used car business, I was a bit nervous about watching this film and perhaps seeing myself muddled in the middle. Needless to say that after watching this movie, I believe that every used car salesman (or anyone in sales for that matter) should watch Used Cars for not just Zemeckis' silly look at the profession, but because it actually does cover the true basis needed to run a successful dealership. As I watched this film, I couldn't think that Zemeckis made Russell and Graham's characters into very creative individuals, sometimes bending the law to assist in gaining a stronger customer base. They were smart, shrewd, and clever when it came to making the customer feel comfortable buying a car from them, which opened the door to more laughs per mile than most modern day comedies. Used Cars is a staple in the comedy genre, demonstrating that you can spoof a career, reinvent an age old story, and use mathematics (1 mile of cars = 250 cars) all to make a viewer laugh. It is a film that will make me laugh again and again, proving that it sustained well over the test of time.
I genuinely miss these types of comedies. Used Cars reminded me of a combination of The Blues Brothers, Police Academy, and License to Drive. It reminded me of a time when comedy was funny because of the language, actions, and final result. Sure, it followed a pattern that can be seen in nearly every film from this decade, but it was a tactic that worked well for those looking to make simple audiences laugh with simple jokes. You cannot find this in today's movies at all. What made Used Cars stand out initially is Kurt Russell's obvious enjoyment of his role and his character. Sometimes in films like these you have comedians going through the motions, but overall it doesn't feel as if they are they for anything more than the paycheck. That is not the case with this cast. Either due to the direction of Zemeckis or the obviously funny script by Bob Gale, the entire cast seemed to fall neatly in place. What made this film reach even further was the idea that each of these characters had a separate life. They were not your cliché characters that fell into the same mold. I love that Russell wanted to run for US Senate (a great sequel could have been spawned with this idea) and that Graham's superstitions were true (enough to help Russell in a tight space). I loved the use of McKean and Lander, obviously playing off their characters from Laverne & Shirley. Could you imagine this film today using television stars in different roles? It wouldn't work. Zemeckis pulled together a great cast and Russell fit the part of the used car salesman perfectly. I especially loved the dual role of Jack Warden, who continued to make me laugh again and again with his ancient family feud. This film worked because of the characters and while each are flawed within the film, the actors playing them are as close to comedic perfection as you can get.
With such a strong cast in place, one would imagine that Zemeckis wouldn't have to worry about a strong story. You couldn't be more wrong. The 80s were a time of underdogs moving up and genuinely tangent plans coming together at the last minute. What other film could you find 250 cars running to the desert, all helmed by high school sophomores, each bought by the evil villain from Three Amigos? I miss these types of films. You knew what was going to happen before it did, but you went along for the ride anyway because it was fun. Today's comedies are only half-way there. You watch them knowing how they will end, but the ride just isn't as fun any longer. Used Cars uses the "Keep it Simple, Stupid" technique which created lifelong comedy and a possible cult film amongst salesmen. I thought that the entire premise between Russell and Warden was nearly like watching a cartoon, i.e. the old Bugs Bunny vs. Yosemite Sam. The commercials that Russell and Graham pull off are comic genius adding more to the story and the overall zaniness of the situation. Again, this isn't rocket science comedy, this is simple. It is easy to laugh at the words, the characters, and even the situation because it can be related to you. You, as an audience member, can see the used car salesman, you can laugh at the technique, and you can even find yourself rooting for him closer to the end. It is a story about being passionate about your job, even if it means you have the bottom of the barrel career.
Overall, I thought this film was hysterical. I was ready to watch a dated film that felt like a time warp back to the 80s, but instead what I discovered was huge laughter and crazy characters that I wouldn't mind re-exploring again. Russell was the perfect choice for the role, demonstrating to us that he can move past his "Disney" image and give us something more robust, more comical, and definitely more adult. If you had to watch this film for one person, it would be Jack Warden. His blend of comedy is superb. He is the epitome of the evil car salesman, but does it with the finesse of comedy that his actions are immediately laugh-out-loud funny. Zemeckis has created a gem that will take you back to the greatness of 80s comedy, but also will make you laugh at today's standards. This is a truly funny film that will be enjoyed in this household for years to come!
Grade: **** out of *****