USED CARS. This film by Zemeckis has one undeniable advantage

Fortunately, the potential and humor of Zemeckis’ work were recognized over time, and today it is often described as “cult.”


7 January 2024

Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale conquered the world with “Back to the Future” in the mid-eighties. However, their fruitful collaboration began a decade earlier. First, they satirized the hysteria surrounding the Beatles, and then they wrote a great yet unfairly overlooked comedy, “1941,” directed by Steven Spielberg. In their next joint project, they decided to mock one of the pillars of American civilization – the automotive industry, specifically the shady used car dealerships.

Kurt Russell plays the lead role, portraying a car dealer with political aspirations. His character, Rudy Russo, is the epitome of a stereotypical salesman – quick-witted, gesticulating rapidly, and ready to embellish the truth just to sell customers four wheels (most of which are barely suitable for spare parts). Despite Rudy being fundamentally dishonest, Russell infuses him with charisma and charm (a credit to the actor). As a result, even though Rudy is an unscrupulous character, it’s hard not to identify with him and cheer for him in his struggles against the ruthless owner of a competing dealership.

“Used Cars” is not the best film directed by   Zemeckis, nor does it boast the most brilliant script by Gale. However, this title has an undeniable advantage – it is incredibly funny. Not in a way that guarantees a constant belly laugh (although some viewers may experience it that way), but rather it induces good humor during and after the screening. Creative gags, slightly mad but likable characters, and a sufficiently engaging plot make you want to know how Russo and his buddies will overcome the next obstacles. Additionally, the film serves as a chronicle of its time, vividly illustrating America from the late seventies to the eighties, cleverly portraying the fast-talking, sly foxes of the used car sales world, mercilessly mocking the crazy TV commercials concocted by dealers, and satirizing the entire peculiar industry once so characteristic of the USA.

The idea for the plot was presented to Zemeckis and Gale by John Millius while they were working on Spielberg’s “1941.” Originally, the story was supposed to take place near Las Vegas, but it was ultimately set in Arizona. Millius and Spielberg served as executive producers on “Used Cars.” While it’s hard to imagine anyone else as Rudy Russo now, the role was initially offered to George Hamilton. Fortunately, Russell ultimately took on the character, proving his immense comedic talent (later utilized by Carpenter in “Big Trouble in Little China”). In addition to Russell, who undoubtedly steals the show, the screen features Joe Flaherty (“SCTV,” “Anchorman”), Frank McRae (“48 Hrs,” “Last Action Hero”), and a brief appearance by Dick Miller (“Gremlins”). The producers also wanted to cast John Candy, but he couldn’t participate due to other commitments.

The film didn’t bring in a lot of money for the creators, and the initial reviews were lukewarm. Despite excellent test screening reviews, the studio decided to accelerate the release, resulting in a much more modest advertising campaign. “Used Cars” also had to compete in theaters with the fantastic parody “Airplane!” from the ZAZ trio. Fortunately, the potential and humor of Zemeckis’ work were recognized over time, and today it is often described as “cult.” Although it seems that this title is mentioned rather infrequently, it’s a shame because it’s a piece of excellent comedy that is worth catching up on.



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