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Used Cars (1980) starring Kurt Russell Blu Ray (Eureka!)

A salesman with greater aspirations

Kurt Russell plays Rudy Russo, a used car salesman working on a lot owned by Luke Fuchs (played by Jack Warden). He has aspirations for getting elected as mayor and is trying to use his commission to fund his campaign. On the opposite side of the road is a rival lot owned by Luke’s brother Roy (also played by Jack Warden). Luke has a heart condition, prompting Roy to see the opportunity to inherit his lot. So, he fatally sends Luke off by sending one of his boys around and taking him on an extremely hair-raising test drive.

However, Rudy is unwilling to see his political aspirations scuppered, so he comes up with a plan of his own: bury Luke, with his car, underneath the lot and pretend that he has gone off to Miami on vacation. As a result, he can then continue to run the lot and put in motion some increasingly outrageous initiatives to promote it. Inevitably, things don’t go as smoothly as planned, particularly when Luke’s daughter Barbara (Deborah Harmon) shows up.

Watch a trailer (N.B. an archive trailer - quality is not reflective of the Eureka Entertainment release):

Don’t buy a used car from Kurt - buy this film instead!

Used Cars was the second attempt in two years by writers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale to scribe an outrageous comedy, the first being the Steven Spielberg-directed 1941. Thankfully, this one (this time directed by Zemeckis himself, with Spielberg limiting his involvement to an Executive Producer credit) is a lot better than that bloated debacle. It’s a broad but very sharp and cynical satire on those who emphasise selling over scruples. Unlike 1941, the mayhem works because it is so sharply focussed.

Rudy (played with an assured, cocky charisma by Kurt Russell) is a man who probably wouldn’t balk at selling ice cubes to Inuit, and here he certainly doesn’t balk at fixing a loose fender with chewing gum, or luring a prospective customer over from Roy’s lot with a $ note on a fishing line. It’s no wonder he wants to go into politics, a business where this same lack of scruples fits him like a glove. He even pinpoints the business he’s going into with some marvellous dialogue:

His colleague Jeff says to him: For Christ’s sake, we’re fuckin’ with the President of the United States.

Rudy retorts: He fucks with us, doesn’t he?

As much of a jerk as he is, he’s very much an anti-hero rather than an outright bad guy. The latter role is reserved for the downright ruthless Roy. With the aid of his sleazy lawyer (played by Joe Flaherty) he will slyly use every method at his disposal that he can get away with just so he can walk away with the prize he jealously eyes via binoculars from across the street.

Kurt Russell in Used Cars (1980)

The film largely revolves around a series of elaborate sketches based on the madcap stunts pulled by Rudy and his assistants to get suckers in to buy his clapped-out automobiles, and the endless attempts of Rudy and Roy to one-up on each other. As with many comedies, it’s best not to spoil them here, but I can reveal that they involve a bit of impromptu nudity, lots of wrecked vehicles and enough satirical barbs to tear an entire United States senate to shreds. Ever seen a Jimmy Carter speech interrupted with a rather astutely placed (and laughably destructive) piece of guerrilla advertising? Well, here is your chance.

The film is so much fun that the few criticisms barely make a dent. Nonetheless, here they are. The finale is spectacular but stretches things just a bit too far into the land of improbability, even by zany comedy standards. While Jack Warden deserves some credit for taking on two roles as twin brothers, his performance as Roy is just a little too overdone. In fact, most of the rest of the cast in general just isn’t as funny, or doesn’t have as amusing characters, as Kurt. Gerrit Graham’s Jeff’s comic character trait, for example, is that he sees red cars as bad luck, an idea that never comes across as very funny. His mechanic Jim (Frank McRae) is always sleeping on the job but, again, it is never used to particularly hilarious effect. Deborah Harmon as Luke’s daughter (and Rudy’s obligatory love interest) is just plain bland.

Nonetheless, the pet dog on Luke’s lot does provide a number of chuckles, as does Al Lewis (The Munsters) as a judge. On the whole, a lot more of the running time is devoted to good (no, make that great) comedy than there is to bad. Compared with most so-called comedic movies, that’s a real achievement.

Runtime: 113 mins

Dir: Robert Zemeckis

Script: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale

Starring: Kurt Russell, Jack Warden, Gerrit Graham, Frank McRae, Deborah Harmon, Joe Flaherty, David L Lander, Michael McKean, Al Lewis

Blu Ray Audio-Visual

The picture here really looks great with vibrant colours, spot-on contrast and fine detail. The sound is clear and clean throughout.

There’s a fair amount here to keep fans diverted. Firstly, we get an audio commentary track with director Robert Zemeckis, producer/co-writer Bob Gale, and star Kurt Russell. We also get two isolated music scores (one of which, composed Ernest Gold, was unused), a 27-minute making-of documentary with Bob Gale, a radio interview with Kurt Russell, outtakes, a gag reel, a Kurt Russell Chrysler commercial, radio spots, still galleries and a trailer. Last, but not least, the package includes the obligatory enclosed booklet featuring essays by author Scott Harrison and film writer Phil Hoad.


Used Cars is an immensely easy film to just sit back and enjoy simply because it throws so much at the viewer and a surprisingly large amount of it sticks.

Movie: ☆☆☆☆

Video: ☆☆☆☆☆

Audio: ☆☆☆☆

Extras: ☆☆☆☆

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