When the owner of a struggling used car lot is killed, it's up to the lot's hot-shot salesman to save the property from falling into the hands of the owner's ruthless brother and used-car rival.
Before his trio of performance-capture films of the '00s ('The Polar Express', 'Beowulf', 'A Christmas Carol'), before becoming an Oscar-winning director ('Forrest Gump'), before directing an impressive trio of '80s blockbusters ('Romancing the Stone', 'Back to the Future', 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit'), Robert Zemeckis was a struggling filmmaker at the start of his career. He benefited greatly from the support of filmmaker Steven Spielberg, who not only directed '1941' from a script Zemeckis co-authored with writing/producing partner Bob Gale, but helped get their first two features made, 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' and 'Used Cars'. The latter has recently been released as a limited edition Blu-ray on the Twilight Time label.
Greatly overshadowed by the release of 'Airplane!' the week before, which has gone on to become recognized as one of the biggest comedies of the '80s but of all-time, 'Used Cars' is an outlandish comedy that tells a familiar story that the end of the '60s and Watergate ushered in of young, smart-aleck rule-breakers who take on the corrupt establishment, bringing to mind films such as 'National Lampoon's Animal House'. What makes 'Used Cars' slightly different is that our heroes try to join 'em before they try to beat 'em.
As the movie opens, the viewer is shown an unscrupulous car dealer in Rudy Russo (Kurt Russell, playing off-type from his squeaky, clean image from the previous decade of Disney films like 'The Barefoot Executive' and 'The Strongest Man in the World'), who is seen rolling back the odometer, attaching a fender with chewing gum, and putting a "Like New" sign over a broken windshield. He is attempting to raise $10,000 in order to buy the nomination for Arizona State Senate.
Rudy works for easy-going Luke Fuchs, whose twin brother Roy (both played by Jack Warden) is a corrupt businessman who runs a car lot across the street. Roy gets word about a freeway on-ramp running right through his lot and tries to get the city planners to switch it to his brother's side of the street, but fails. This leads Roy to surprisingly drastic measures to get Luke out of the picture, which almost derails the movie due to the abrupt change in tone, but the ridiculousness continues unabated.
Luke's daughter, Barbara (Deborah Harmon), who has been out of his life for 10 years, shows up and helps to save her dad's business. However, Roy's people set her up (through some heavy-handed screenwriting that the viewer has to accept but makes no sense) and her uncle might take over. After setting up what is required for a happy ending, the resolution is predictable, but there are enough belly laughs, car stunts, and brief nudity along the way to entertain. It's also a treat to see many familiar faces in small parts, such as Michael McKean, David L. Sander, Dick Miller, Al Lewis, and Dub Taylor.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Twilight Time released 'Used Cars' on a 50GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a standard blue keepcase. The discs boot up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements. Included is a six-page booklet containing notes by Julie Kirgo.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.85:1. The image looks clean throughout and shows no wear or damage. Film grain is evident, and during a couple of scenes in the beginning gets slightly busy when seen against the Arizona daytime sky.
Colors come through in solid hues and blacks suffice in their richness. The contrast is appealing and good shadow delineation is on display. The film has a soft focus that results in object edges being smooth but the video still exhibits textures and depth.
The audio is available in both DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, with both tracks sounding clean and the addition of the mono earning a half a star in my score.
On the former, the surrounds offer a good amount of ambiance without coming across as inauthentic. The wind can be heard faintly blowing and flags lightly flapping as the movie opens. Later, rain and thunder are evident during a storm, and practical organ music plays during a send-off. Cars can be heard moving across the front channels. The dialogue is always clear and understandable.
The dynamic range is pleasing and the elements are frequently well mixed but there are some minor issues. The ADR comes off flat, most noticeable when Rudy works his first customer and it's distractingly obvious Kurt's likes were recorded later. Suffering in a similar way are the effects heard when Mickey takes Luke on a reckless ride. The crashing and smashing don't have much oomph, lacking in power and bass. Patrick Williams' score sounds too pristine. The mono track helps alleviate some of these issues.
If you're looking for laughs, give Robert Zemeckis' 'Used Cars' a test drive, especially this Twilight Time release. It comes with very good video, sufficient audio, and a commentary track that's entertaining as the movie.