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Film / The Adventures of Ford Fairlane

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The Adventures of Ford Fairlane is a 1990 film and star vehicle for 80's comedian Andrew "Dice" Clay, who plays the eponymous Ford Fairlane. It's also notable for being an early work of Finnish director Renny Harlin and being featured in the music video for Billy Idol's "Cradle of Love."

Ford Fairlane (Clay) is a private investigator who specializes in the Hollywood music industry. His business, run by himself and his assistant, Jazz (Lauren Holly), is experiencing financial difficulties because most of his clients keep paying him with expensive gifts instead of money. Eventually, he's hired by two seemingly unrelated clients, shock-jock DJ Johnny Crunch (Gilbert Gottfried) and humorless socialite Colleen Sutton (Priscilla Presley), to find a young groupie named Zuzu Petals. Although he has reservations, they offer him cash. His investigations lead him through a cast of colorful characters, including sleazy record producer Julian Grendel (Wayne Newton), a giggling mercenary known only as "Smiley" (Robert Englund), the bumbling, nostalgic cop Lieutenant Amos (Ed O'Neill), and eventually to Zuzu Petals herself (Maddie Corman), a space cadet.

This film provides examples of:

  • 555: Lampshaded in the opening scene when Fairlane gives his number to a young hottie he meets at a club. She protests, telling him that 555 isn't a real number, just one used in movies. He responds with "Yeah—no shit, honey, what do you think this is, real life?"
  • Accidental Public Confession: Type 3. During the climax of the movie, Ford Fairlane lures antagonist Julian Grendel backstage, where the latter brags about the details of his evil scheme. Unbeknownst to him, Zuzu Petals is standing behind him with a microphone, and his flamboyant boasting is heard by the crowd.
  • Actor Allusion: One of the lines from Ford Fairlane's narration says "I could have been a rock star, if only I wasn't banned from MTV." Andrew "Dice" Clay was reportedly "banned for life" from MTV following his appearance at the 1989 VMAs due to performing his foul-mouthed routine at the event. (He would eventually appear again after this film was released three years later, in a sketch at the 1992 VMAs.)
  • Anti-Hero: Ford is an Unscrupulous Hero at best or a Nominal Hero at his worst.
  • Bar Slide: Fairlane does this to Sam the Sleazebag during the opening scene.
    Fairlane: You're two seconds away from the most embarrassing moment of your life.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: There are a few instances of this, particularly at the beginning and at the end.
    "What, you didn't think we'd kill the fluckin' koala, did ya?"
  • The Cameo: MTV VJ Kurt Loder makes a brief appearance As Himself.
  • Chekhov's Gag: "Hit paydirt with K-Dirt!"
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Sambuka Milkshake.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Zuzu Petals, having moved well beyond just ditzy.
  • Combat Pragmatist: When Smiley confronts Ford at the end of the film, Ford says the two should settle it with their fists, mano-a-mano. When Smiley throws down his gun, Ford just uses his own gun to shoot him dead.
  • Cool Car: True to his name, Ford owns a very nice '57 Ford Fairlane.
  • Disco Dan:
    • Andrew Dice Clay's stand-up comedy shtick is basically that of a 1950's greaser. Fairlane, as a character, is only different in that he's given a slightly updated look.
    • Lieutenant Amos is a much more literal example. Besides being an incompetent cop, the full extent of Amos's characterization is his obsession with the 70's. He used to be the lead singer for Disco Express; he breaks out into the chorus of their one hit single, "Booty Time," at every opportunity. He dresses professionally in most of his appearances (although he does have the mustache), and does eventually show up in his 70's leisure suit.
  • Double Entendre: Several examples throughout the film, most of them from Ford Fairlane.
  • Dumbass DJ: Johnny Crunch, the "King of the Shock Jocks," played by professional loudmouth Gilbert Gottfried.
  • Everyone Has Standards: As awful as he is, Ford is horrified when he sees kids smoking and doesn't like them swearing either.
  • Fake Band:
    • The Black Plague, whose lead singer, Bobby Black, drops dead during the opening credits. The Black Plague plays one song during the movie, which is actually the song "Rock N Roll Junkie" by Mötley Crüe.
    • Also Disco Express, Lieutenant Amos's former band.
    • FF and The Captain, former band of Ford and Johnny when they moved to Hollywood.
    • The Condom Factory front also features a long list of fake band names.
  • Fanservice:
    • The scene at the I Eta Pi sorority house, oh so very much.
    • Also the girl from the "Cradle of Love" music video that is a Video Full of Film Clips from this film, not featured in the movie itself but still worth noting.
  • Film Noir: The film is a comedic one, heavily inspired by 1950's pulp crime novels and private eye tropes.
  • The "Fun" in "Funeral": The funeral for posthumous character Bobby Black is a circus to begin with, starting with a sleazy guy scalping tickets and offering discounts to women who, um, service him first. It only goes downhill from there, when Smiley shows up to kidnap Zuzu Petals. Ford and Smiley have a merry car chase through the cemetery, knocking over Bobby Black's circular glass casket in the process, causing it to roll downhill with screaming fangirls in hot pursuit.
  • Giggling Villain: Robert Englund's leather-and-chains-clad mercenary shows up out of nowhere, says "'ello, 'ello!", and giggles like a lunatic while trying to kill Fairlane. Although he's never given a name, Fairlane starts referring to him as "Smiley."
  • Groin Attack:
    • Zuzu Petals does this twice. First, with Ford: she gets down on her knees to beg for his help, and he assumes that she's doing something else. Insulted, she punches Stanley. Later, she socks Lieutenant Amos in the crotch, causing him to sing "Booty Time" soprano.
    • There's also a fake-out Groin Attack during the beginning of the movie, when Ford, accompanied by Josie and the Pussycats (no, not them), almost performs a "Citizen's Castration" on Sam the Sleazebag.
  • I Call Him "Mister Happy": Stanley. Like the power drill.
  • I Love the Dead: A variation happens when Ford has to hijack a hearse for a car chase in a cemetery. The corpse, a large-chested woman, slides into the passenger's seat, forcing Ford to struggle with her limp body as it leans and flops against him. He notices her cleavage and comments "Damn, baby—I hope you filled out some organ donor cards!" Of course, he's visibly freaked out when the girl wakes up.
  • In-Series Nickname: Ford Fairlane is often called "Mr. Rock-n-Roll Detective" or something similar. He's not fond of it.
  • Kavorka Man: While he's not exactly ugly, Ford Fairlane is crass, rude, and incredibly sexist. Yet, the hot young women are all over him.
  • Large Ham: Andrew Dice Clay, throughout the entire movie. Gilbert Gottfried qualifies as well; if he didn't have such a small role, it might have led to outright Ham-to-Ham Combat.
  • Living MacGuffin: Zuzu Petals.
  • Made of Iron: Smiley is one tough son of a bitch. He survives easily lethal falls, Ford smashing a TV on his head, and more.
  • Mouthy Kid: One of the subplots involves a kid who emulates Ford. Even Ford can't believe some of the things that come out of his mouth. He hires Ford to find his father, a plotline that ends as a "Shaggy Dog" Story.
  • Nothing Up My Sleeve: Ford keeps a nickeled S&W Model 38 up his sleeve in a spring-loaded gamblers' rig. With only a couple of exceptions, it frequently malfunctions.
  • Plot Coupon: The three computer disks that contain the incriminating evidence.
  • Police Are Useless: Lieutenant Amos is an absolutely clueless cop who shows up at crime scenes and acts as Ford's police competition. He doesn't even come close to solving the case, and Ford makes no effort to help him.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Ford Fairlane is blatantly and shamelessly sexist. Many of his lines are lifted verbatim from Andrew Dice Clay's own stand-up comedy act, which is one of the primary reasons his career tanked so badly by the mid '90s.
  • Pro Bono Barter: The reason Ford takes the cases of Johnny Crunch and Colleen Sutton in the first place, despite knowing that both are deceiving him, is because all of his clients bring him expensive (but tacky) gifts instead of money.
  • Radio Contest: Provides an unexpected happy ending.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Zuzu's petals" are a key plot point in It's a Wonderful Life.
    • At one point, Johnny Crunch does the "She's my sister and my daughter" bit from Chinatown.
    • There's a moment where Ford and Zazu are at the top of a building and Ford shouts "Top of the world, Ma!", similar to James Cagney in White Heat.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Ford barely lets a sentence go by without some profanity. A given considering who he's played by.
  • Think Unsexy Thoughts: Early on the film, Ford imagines the nude image of Roseanne Barr is his head to cause a massive erection to subside, telling himself "Come on, down boy. Down Stanley. Roseanne Barr naked. Gone".
  • True Art Is Incomprehensible: Bobby Black gave his compact disk to Zuzu Petals before his death. Zuzu, of course, listened to it. She later says it's good, describing it as being very "avant-garde," and proceeds to imitate the "music." She is unaware that the CD is actually a computer disk.
  • Twin Threesome Fantasy: Ford is so cool, he makes this a reality within the first ten minutes of the movie.
  • Video Full of Film Clips: Billy Idol's video for his hit single "Cradle of Love" featured several clips from this movie.
  • Voice Clip Song: The film's theme song, Yello's "Unbelievable", chops and screws samples of Fairlane's dialogue.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: One of the punk gunslingers. Julian Grendel, Smiley, and the other punk gunslinger are all killed off, but when last we see this punk gunslinger, he is fighting Sam the Sleazebag. Although Jazz and Sam are next shown entering the building, showing they must have defeated him somehow. Although after Grendel is defeated Smiley returns for revenge, but the punk gunslinger never does.