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Film / Used Cars

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"Nothing sells a car better than a car itself. Remember this: You have to get their confidence, get their friendship, get their trust. Then get their money."
Rudy Russo

Used Cars is a 1980 American satirical Black Comedy film directed by Robert Zemeckis (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Bob Gale) and starring Kurt Russell, Jack Warden, Deborah Harmon, Gerrit Graham, and Frank McRae.

Mesa, Arizona used car salesman Rudy Russo (Russell) needs money to run for State Senate, so he approaches his boss Luke Fuchs (Warden). Luke agrees to front him the $10,000 he needs, but then encounters an "accident" orchestrated by his evil brother Roy (also Warden), who owns a competing car lot across the street. Roy is hoping to claim title to his brother's property because Roy is paying off the mayor to route the new Interstate through the area. After Luke expires, it's all-out war between the competing car lots, and no nasty trick is off limits as Rudy and his gang fight to keep Roy from taking over Luke's property. Then Luke's daughter Barbara Jane (Harmon) shows up, and Rudy finds himself taking a fancy to her.

Tropes used in Used Cars include:

  • Absurd Phobia: Jeff has a phobia of red cars, seeing them as evil. He freezes up during the football game ad because he is standing next to a red car as it's broadcasting (leading to his female assistant to try to intervene... and getting her outfit torn apart by a snag on the car) and at the climax he nearly screws up the plan because the purple car he was driving turns out to be actually red once some of the crappy repainting it had strips off (Rudy is able to convince him to drive it, and he goes full Evel Knievel with it to get to the lot by jumping a train with it, by telling him to look past the red paint and remember that cars are grey beneath them).
  • The Alleged Car: The whole lot of cars both Fuchs brothers sell is definitely this. They are holding on by a wing and a prayer, some have damages as insane as bullet holes on the windshield (and it is heavily implied that Rudy's contact steals them) and that is before Rudy and his co-workers try (and often fail) to make them presentable).
  • Amoral Attorney: During the court hearing of the third act, Roy Fuchs' attorney assures him that he made sure Barbara will be sentenced by bribing the jury, the witnesses and Barbara’s attorney. The only person he did not bribed is Judge Harrison.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Rudy, his co-workers and his boss are not saints when it comes to selling cars, and Rudy was going to start his road in politics with a bribe, but Roy has no problem doing murder and framing people for an alleged crime.
  • Cain and Abel: Neither Fuchs brother is a saint, but Roy isn't adverse to murdering his sibling and manipulating the system to get what he wants.
  • Cash Lure: Rudy uses a $10 bill on a fishing line to attract a customer from across the street at a competing car dealer. When the customer is chasing the money and not looking at traffic, Hilarity Ensues.
  • Chekhov's Armory: In the beginning of the film, a Mexican guy who supplies them with cars says he has a ton of them just sitting around (there has to be at least 250 in a picture he shows them). Later in the movie a driver's ed teacher, who they sold crappy cars to, is angry because now his 250 students can't learn to drive. At the end of the movie the lot is being sued for false advertisement (due to the bad guy messing with an ad to say they have a mile of cars then paying off "experts" to say it wasn't tampered with). A mile of cars is said to be about 250 cars and if they don't have that many at the lot when the judge comes by to see they lose. Remember how the Mexican had at least 250 cars and how the teacher had 250 students?
  • Exact Words: The entire third act revolves around Roy Fuchs placing Barbara Jane in legal trouble for the alleged false advertisement of not owning a literal mile's long worth of cars in their lot (a promise that exists only because Roy doctored the ad video). Even after they manage, through various insane (and probably illegal on their own) means, to get enough cars to measure 99.9% of a mile to the lot, Judge H. H. Harrison is seconds away from ordering Barbara Jane's arrest when a lucky break happens that makes a car measure the five inches that were missing.
  • Fake-Out Make-Out: To keep her off the car lot while they are shooting the bootleg commercial, Rudy asks Barbara to have dinner with him. While in the restaurant, Barbara discovers the bar has tuned to the Presidential speech the others are about to insert a commercial into. She does not know about it and must not notice. To get her out of the restaurant, Rudy pretends to have stomach flu and runs outside, holding his stomach like he's about to vomit. Barbara comes out and goes to him, whereupon he brushes it off as a panic attack, only noticing they’re standing in front of a TV store with a "wall" of TV sets where the broadcast can be seen and heard. He creates a diversion. Rudy turns her around so her back is to the TVs, grabs her head, plugs her ears with his fingers, and while holding her head, begins passionately kissing her all through the entire commercial, to her complete surprise.
  • Handcuffed Briefcase: Rudy is in the process of buying his way into state government and gives a Corrupt Corporate Executive a bribe in a briefcase, which the executive handcuffs to himself while they're both sitting in a limo. When Rudy decides to renege on the deal and use the money for (slightly) more noble purposes he grabs the briefcase and slams the car door on the chain on his way out, breaking it.
  • Hanging Judge: Judge H. H. Harrison (played by Al "Grandpa Munster" Lewis) is portrayed as one of these, complete with model guillotine and hangman's noose on his bench. The film's villains take a chance on using Harrison, an honest judge, simply because he's guaranteed to give the harshest sentence should he find the heroes guilty (why not go for a corrupt judge that could do the same (especially after Roy Fuchs' Amoral Attorney bribed everybody else in the case, even Barbara Jane's lawyer) is only answerable with "because it wouldn't be as funny"). Sure enough, when Rudy manages to get enough cars to measure just five inches short of a literal mile, Harrison starts to order Barbara's arrest because it's still not a mile's worth when Roy bangs on the car in excitement, making the license plate (which covers the fuel cap) to accidentally drop down and extend the bumper the necessary number of inches.
  • Heh Heh, You Said "X": The car dealership is doing an illegal broadcast by tapping into a football game and substituting their own commercial for the video feed. One of the car dealers has a deathly fear of red painted cars, and when they cut in the commercial and the flood lights are turned on, he realizes it's not a dark blue car, but a red one, so he says, "What the fuck is this, Rudy, a red car?" One of the technicians that arranged for the illegal tap in turns to Rudy and says, "Did he say 'fuck'? That's an FCC violation!" As if what they're already doing isn't...
  • Honest John's Dealership: The entire film is a war between two such dealerships.
  • Irony: Jeff, the car salesman with the luck obsession (carries entire pocketfuls of lucky talismans, believes red cars are unlucky, etc.) brings luck to the group by doing things he thinks are unlucky (driving a red car, tipping every salt shaker in a bar (and escalating to shattering mirrors and opening umbrellas when it's not enough), etc.)
  • Kitschy Local Commercial: First they hijack the broadcast of a local football game, but their model loses her dress. Then they hijack a TV transmission of a speech from President Carter to broadcast a commercial in which they also destroy some of their rival's cars. Later a legitimate (bad) commercial says that they have "styles" of cars but the audio is altered by people working for the rival to say "miles" instead; the lot is then sued for false advertising, since they don't have a mile of cars.
  • Of Corpse He's Alive: Luke is purposely given a fatal heart attack during an extreme test drive. The body is disposed of by propping the dead guy up in his favorite vintage car, setting the car in drive, and having it crash while a big sale is going on at the first dealership. The dead guy is subsequently buried in his car.
  • Recorded Spliced Conversation: The climax happens because the rival dealerships splices and edits the commercial in way that will give their false advertisement complaint a leg to stand on.
  • Shoot the Television: Roy L. Fuchs smashes his TV set in a rage during President Carter's televised address, after the broadcast is hijacked by the employees of his brother Luke's used car lot, who were seeking to "advertise" their rival business on TV and destroy several cars on Roy L.'s lot in the process.
  • Stripping Snag: A model appearing in the pirated live commercial during the football game gets her dress caught on a car's hood ornament and (surprise) has it completely yanked off when the hood flies open.