Used Cars (Robert Zemeckis / U.S., 1980):

Technical virtuosity at the service of gags, technical virtuosity as gags: The camera cranes down and around from the windshield of a suspended Edsel to a close-up of an odometer about to be rolled back, then opening credits. A sandy lot is just the arena for the dawn of the Eighties, car dealerships on opposite sides of the street give the joust between brothers, one a weak-hearted walrus and the other a pompadoured cutthroat. (Jack Warden plays the twins as the wheezing and bellowing masks of capitalism, cf. The Big Broadcast of 1938.) "Free enterprise, competition, the American way." The young slickster (Kurt Russell) literally reels in suckers with a $10 bill at the end of his fishing pole and has his sights set on politics, a more advanced form of salesmanship. Support comes from the nervous Nellie (Gerrit Graham) who wields a fierce rabbit's foot and the mechanic (Frank McRae) with a penchant for dozing off with acetylene torch in hand, even the pet beagle has its role in the snake-oil schemes. "One who hesitates is lost, right?" Thin paint and velocity for Robert Zemeckis' guerrilla artists, a demolition derby of new technologies and wet dreams, the raunchier the better. (The antagonists hold red-white-and-blue carnivals while the heroes sign contracts on a stripper's swirling ass.) Dub Taylor in the back of a limo supplies the corrosive Capra link, Al Lewis in judicial robes keeps a tiny gallows by his gavel. Richest of all, the airwaves pirates (Michael McKean, David L. Lander) who slice into the State of the Nation address for a foul-mouthed commercial—Jimmy Carter brooding over inflation interspersed with Graham in Buffalo Bill drag shotgunning jalopies. "All those years of film school paid off!" Keaton's Go West for the climactic auto stampede, "student driver shit" saves the day in the grand comedy of venality. With Deborah Harmon, Joe Flaherty, Michael Talbott, Harry Northup, and Alfonso Arau.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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