Sunday, May 15, 2011

That Darn Car

In the liner notes for my treasured DVD of THE CAR, a film critic for the New York Press makes the (apparently straight-faced) argument that this movie about a demonic automobile terrorizing a small town in New Mexico is not the classic of ridiculous plotting, terrible acting, and goofy dialogue that it’s generally regarded as, but rather an unacknowledged gem of existentialist horror; a cerebral, symbolic, Ingmar Bergmanesque inquiry into man’s struggle against evil in a godless world. I'm not going to mention the guy's name here, because it seems likely the guy had some kind of drug problem. Still--

It’s an interesting perspective, and admirably serious and well considered, as it’s all too easy to ridicule or dismiss a movie with THE CAR's rep. But after giving it another look, I still couldn’t quite see the profundity and depth that the New York Press critic claims is lurking just below The Car's schlocky surface. And I even smoked out before I watched it.

Alas, the only thing that runs deep in The Car is its silliness. It really can’t reasonably be deemed a good movie, but it does have its fans, and I’m among them (hence the DVD in my possession).

Then again, maybe “fan” is too strong a word, but I do hold a peculiar affection for it. It has its strong points, like a lot of picturesque desert scenery, some nifty action sequences and stunt work, and James Brolin is actually pretty solid as the sheriff tasked with putting an end to the car’s murderous rampage (on the debit side, the usually solid Ronny Cox is almost comically hammy and overwrought as Brolin’s sniveling, alcoholic deputy, and Kathleen Lloyd, as the girlfriend, delivers an exquisitely irritating performance that never fails to set my teeth on edge).

And the car itself, it must be said, is pretty cool. A dark, heavy slab of joyless automotive engineering, the car's tricked out with an oversized grill that looks like snarling teeth, close-set headlights fixed in a perpetual scowl, and a front bumper designed for destruction rather than safety--not to mention a blaring, air-splitting horn taken from the semi in Duel. It’s not exactly a scary car, but if Satan was a motorist, I imagine this would be the vehicle for him (maybe Dick Cheney has one of these, ha ha). But most importantly, the director keeps the action moving, and it's hardly ever dull; even the quiet moments are good for some laughs.

I wouldn’t say any of it is exactly thought provoking, but it's every bit as fun as you could hope a bad movie would be.