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Used Cars: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray Review

Used Cars (1980) movie poster Used Cars

Theatrical Release: July 18, 1980 / Running Time: 113 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Robert Zemeckis / Writers: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale

Cast: Kurt Russell (Rudy Russo), Jack Warden (Roy L. Fuchs, Luke Fuchs), Gerrit Graham (Jeff), Frank McRae (Jim the Mechanic), Deborah Harmon (Barbara Jane Fuchs), Joe Flaherty (Sam Slaton), David L. Lander (Freddie Paris), Michael McKean (Eddie Winslow), Michael Talbott (Mickey), Harry Northup (Carmine), Alfonso Arau (Manuel), Al Lewis (Judge H.H. Harrison), Woodrow Parfrey (Mr. Chertner), Andrew Duncan (Charlie), Dub Taylor (Tucker), Claude Earl Jones (Al), Beans Morocco (Stanley Dewoski), Cheryl Rixon (Margaret), Wendie Jo Sperber (Nervous Nona), Marc McClure ("Heavy Duty" Dubois)

Buy Used Cars on Blu-ray exclusively at Screen Archives

Ten years and a week ago, I reviewed a pair of Kurt Russell films on DVD, the 1970s college comedy sequels Now You See Him, Now You Don't and The Strongest Man in the World. Discovering these and his other similarly entertaining live-action films (e.g. The Barefoot Executive) made over ten years at Disney made me look at Russell in a whole new light.
Here, I had been thinking he was simply an action movie tough guy in films like Escape from New York, The Thing, and Big Trouble in Little China, and it turns out he made these sweet, innocent family films long before them. It's a past that can likely surprise the typical modern movie fan, as the films are largely forgotten and Russell has never really looked back. Apart from making a few more movies for Disney (Miracle, Sky High), Russell remains known as an action guy and at age 63, one you could easily imagine getting asked to do an Expendables sequel.

The rare child actor to succeed in adulthood, Russell followed his Disney phase and a minor league baseball career ended by a torn rotator cuff with short-lived, long-forgotten television shows. Then in 1979, in his first performance for director John Carpenter, he portrayed Elvis Presley in a widely-viewed TV movie that earned him an Emmy nomination. Carpenter was in the helm for the aforementioned 1980s action movies that would reinvent Russell and revive his acting career. But immediately after Elvis and before the others, Russell picked up his first theatrical credit since 1975's Strongest in Used Cars.

This 1980 comedy was among the first credits of writer/director Robert Zemeckis and writer/producer Bob Gale. They had previously made the 1978 flop I Wanna Hold Your Hand, a comedy about Beatles groupies. Both had also contributed story and screenplay to 1941, the first and rare misstep of Steven Spielberg's directing career. The two men, then in their late twenties, would recover, not only with Used Cars, a decent midsized performer released in the summer of 1980, but also with what followed: for Zemeckis, the hit 1984 adventure comedy Romancing the Stone; and for both, 1985's enduringly beloved box office champion, Back to the Future.

The 1980 comedy "Used Cars" stars Kurt Russell as Rudy Russo, a dishonest used car salesman.

Used Cars tells the story of rival car dealerships owned by twin brothers Roy L. and Luke Fuchs (both played by Jack Warden). The mutton-chopped Roy L. is the film's bad guy, clearly more malicious than his brother, the mustachioed Luke, whose New Deal is largely run by Rudy Russo (Russell), a master in the art of shrewdly selling junky automobiles. Rudy is well versed in the tricks of the trade, like fixing a bumper with a piece of chewing gum, painting over the yellow and passing taxis off as something else, reeling in customers with a $10 bill on a fishing line, and changing his surname and speech to match that of prospective buyers. Rudy and his co-workers are dishonest, but our sympathy is with them.

That much is guaranteed when Roy arranges for a stunt driver to give Luke one wild test drive. The excitement is enough to give Luke a fatal heart attack. You don't expect such a dark turn so early in a comedy, or for what happens next. Since Luke's death would result in Roy inheriting New Deal, Rudy and colleagues bury their beloved boss and claim he's only gone away on a trip to Florida. That lie is complicated when Luke's daughter Barbara (Deborah Harmon), estranged for ten years, shows up looking to mend fences. Rudy immediately takes a liking to the young woman, but can't bring himself to tell her the awful truth.

Meanwhile, New Deal and Roy's shop across the street try to one-up each other. New Deal seems to get an advantage, turning their lot into a disco club with women stripping down on tops of cars. Under the leadership of Rudy, who's in the preliminary stage of mounting a state senator campaign, and the technical savvy of two associates (played by "Laverne & Shirley" duo David L. Lander and Michael McKean), the business manages to interrupt a televised football game in the middle of an exciting play and even jam Jimmy Carter's presidential address simultaneously being broadcast on three networks. Roy responds to his rival's boom in business with a legal strategy. After his connections doctor Barbara's comment in a commercial to make it a blatant case of false advertising, his counsel (Joe Flaherty) prepares to pounce.

The ruthless Roy L. Fuchs (Jack Warden) wants his brother's dealership and will go to great lengths to get it. Taking over New Deal in the wake of her father's death, estranged daughter Barbara Fuchs (Deborah Harmon) finds herself in court on false advertising charges the morning after a doctored commercial airs.

Used Cars makes sense as the vessel by which Russell could transition from clean-cut Disney star to all-purposes leading man. He retains his boyish charm while shedding his G rating in favor of crude adult content that had no shot of earning a PG in the years before a PG-13 was introduced.
Profanity pervades the film and there's plenty of sex and off-color humor as well. With its ubiquitous plaid coats and sideburns, the movie has the look and feel of a 1970s movie, which after all, is likely the decade in which either most or all of the picture was shot. It's certainly a dated movie and somewhat of a stupid one, but it maintains a decent amount of wit and appeal.

This is not what you would expect from the makers of Back to the Future (although the actors who play Marty McFly's siblings both appear here, the only cast members portraying high school driving students given pre-scroll crediting). It's also unlike anything else we've seen from Zemeckis, who has since gravitated to big and effects-driven movies (such as Forrest Gump, Cast Away, and his years of dabbling in costly motion capture), and Gale, who has done little beyond Back to the Future and its sequels. For that matter, Russell hasn't shown much interest in straight comedy either, forgetting his origins on all but Captain Ron and Sky High.

This one confluence of those three men, each born in the spring of 1951, captures a bygone era of cinema. Used Cars distinctly belongs to the late '70s and early '80s brand of raunchy comedies. Including movies like Animal House, Stripes, and Bachelor Party, the mold didn't cost much and could turn a decent profit. Zemeckis, Gale, and their unlikely Used Cars executive producer Spielberg were already in the process of changing the industry and ringing in the blockbuster age. Suddenly, comedies started to incorporate another genre, like sci-fi, action or adventure. PG became the new standard, which evolved into PG-13 not long after it was introduced in 1984. Crude, mid-sized movies like this didn't stand a chance next to flashier competition. Even to this day, we don't see a lot of adult comedies given wide release, just a few that embrace their niche with outrageous hard-R-rated antics and either star power or a high concept.

I won't argue that the industry is better or worse without movies like Used Cars in it, just different. Such a product of its time, the film doesn't get many laughs today. Its creative action climax is a little overlong and overblown, not to mention that it hinges on a ludicrously far-fetched and expedited application of consumer law. Some of the smaller moments still work, though, like those involving the superstitious Jeff (Gerrit Graham), a dealer who tries to commit to unluckiness (spilled salt, walking under ladders, you name it) to help a friend who has bet everything against his advice, and the oddball judge (Al Lewis, a.k.a. Grandpa Munster) with little hangman and other execution contraptions on his bench.

A Columbia Pictures release, Used Cars recently made its Blu-ray debut from Twilight Time in a disc which, as always, the company has limited to 3,000 copies available exclusively at ScreenArchives.com.

Used Cars: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Screen Archives Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (English),
1.0 DTS-HD MA (English, Isolated Score, Isolated Alternate Score)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: April 8, 2014
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
List Price: $29.95
Blue Keepcase
Still available on DVD ($9.99 SRP; January 1, 2002) and Amazon Instant Video


Modestly-budgeted films from the late 1970s and early 1980s seem to be most prone to wear and tear, so it's extra special that Used Cars looks as amazing as it does on Twilight Time's Blu-ray. The 1.85:1 presentation is practically breathtaking most of the time. A few rare shots seem to lack focus and detail. The rest of the time, though, the movie looks delightfully new, boasting a clean element and natural colors in line with the production era.

Sound is offered in both 5.1 and 1.0 DTS-HD master audio. I listened to the default former and was pleased with that remix. The sound is very clear, especially allowing the score to thrive, while English SDH subtitles are kindly supplied. For a film that feels its age, Used Cars doesn't look or sound it.

The superstitious Jeff (Gerrit Graham) delivers an alternate line in the unsightly Used Cars gag reel. Gallery images include used and unused "Used Cars" ad concepts.


The Blu-ray sports a good number of bonus features,
most of them carried over from Sony's 2002 DVD.

The first three items enhance/alter playback of the film and are found in the Set Up menu.

An audio commentary is offered by director Robert Zemeckis, his producer and co-writer Bob Gale, and Kurt Russell, recorded together back in 2001. The three enjoy watching their movie for the first time in a long time, but they also talk all the way through and reveal much, like how John Candy was cast in the Joe Flaherty role but had to bow out because his agent double-booked him, how it took double roles to get Jack Warden onboard for what was his first R-rated film, how the whole thing is in the mold of a Frank Capra movie, why viewers accept Rudy Russo (he's good at his job), how this differs from Zemeckis and Gale's first film, the comparisons drawn from opening close to Airplane!, daring stunts they'd never do today, the treatment of the President compared to Bill Clinton's "appearance" in Zemeckis' Contact, the score with which they were thoroughly unsatisfied, and so on. Listening to this lively and informative track, it's clear that commentaries peaked back then; so few tracks today wield anywhere near as much excitement as this electric reunion.

New for this release, Twilight Time offers their standard isolated score feature, which gives you the entire movie simply with music. On top of that, there's also an alternate isolated score track that shares the aforementioned unused score. An explanation for why it's included here would have been nice.

Video bonus features begin with the unsightly Gag Reel & Outtakes (4:25), which share cast swearing, not swearing, and wearing a pair of glasses with a penis-shaped nose on them (a studio-nixed decision addressed in the commentary).

Four short HD photo galleries follow: Action and Stunts (24 stills), Unused Ad Concepts (8 stills, one with Spielberg's handwritten disapproval), Behind the Scenes (9 black & white stills), and Posters and Lobby Cards (9 stills). The swish sounds that accompany page turns might drive you mad, but this good content even builds upon what Sony included on DVD. That's especially impressive at a time when most catalog Blu-rays lose this DVD galleries instead of converting them for Blu-ray.

Kurt Russell stays somewhat in character to promote Darner Chrysler-Plymouth, the real Mesa, Arizona dealership at which the film was shot. The lemon title logo that serves as cover art makes its first appearance in the Used Cars theatrical trailer.

Kicking off a Radio and TV Promotional Materials section is a 30-second TV commercial featuring Kurt Russell promoting the Arizona Darner Chrysler-Plymouth dealership where the movie was shot.

There's also a 5-minute radio interview of Russell done the day before the film's release.
Sounding nothing like himself (is this being played at the wrong speed?), Russell discusses his Disney "lowlights" and his life, while the host reveals that Used Cars promotion has included sending a car in the mail piece by piece.

Next come seven radio spots (7:51), most of them running a little over a minute each. These are interesting, from a phone message endorsement to banter about being unable to run an R-rated movie on family radio to a mention of "Lenny & Squiggy" to a $500 rebate scam (send in your ticket stubs and $1,000!). Who knew radio marketing was this creative in 1980?

An original theatrical trailer for Used Cars (1:50) is preserved in HD. It's an oddity, as it bleeps curses but shows bare breasts, like a redband trailer with greenband audio.

Finally, the Twilight Time catalogue is presented in its entirety to date, with releases from 2011 through this month titled and their covers shown.

Par for the company, the static and silent menu is simply the cover art. The disc resumes unfinished playback, but does not let you set bookmarks.

The final extra is found inside the keepcase. It's a booklet devoting four of its 8 pages to a high-minded, celebratory essay on the film by Julie Kirgo.

Barbara (Deborah Harmon) and Rudy (Kurt Russell) lead an army of student drivers in a race against the clock to get 250 used cars to New Deal lot in time for a legal ruling.


I enjoyed Used Cars less for what it is and more for what it represents, as the advancement of Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale and the adult reinvention of Kurt Russell. All of them have made better films than this crude comedy, but it definitely has its moments and lightly entertains on a regular basis.

Twilight Time's Blu-ray is everything it should be, delivering a top-notch feature presentation and adding some to the already substantial and spirited extras slate assembled for Sony's DVD. Fans of the film have good reason to upgrade to this Blu-ray, though as always, there is some additional expense that comes with an otherwise highly satisfying Twilight Time release.

Buy Used Cars exclusively at screenarchives.com

Related Reviews:
1980: Caddyshack Airplane! Herbie Goes Bananas Popeye
1980s Comedies: Teen Wolf Clue Planes, Trains & Automobiles Blind Date The Naked Gun Scrooged
Kurt Russell: The Barefoot Executive Escape from New York Now You See Him, Now You Don't The Strongest Man in the World Sky High
Jack Warden: The Great Muppet Caper From Here to Eternity Billy Two Hats The Verdict
Directed by Robert Zemeckis: Forrest Gump Flight Who Framed Roger Rabbit Beowulf A Christmas Carol (2009)
The Campaign The Middle: Season 1 I Love You, Man The Hangover Laverne & Shirley: The Third Season
New to Blu-ray: Broadway Danny Rose Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation Chances Are Fargo

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Reviewed May 5, 2014.

Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1980 Columbia Pictures and 2014 Twilight Time, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
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