Car Salesman Still Funny?
Starring Jeremy Piven, Ving Rhames
By Tom Bevis
Walking into the theater, I heard among some of the whispered chatter from the casual viewers comparisons of the film “Used Cars.” I then realized two things: people who can get into a movie for free always will, regardless of if they want to see the picture or not and second, they were right. “Used Cars” may well have been the precursor to Jeremy Piven vehicle, “The Goods.”
The word apparently was that there were few differences between the two pictures, and they ran about the same. “The Goods” is about a group of mercenary car salesmen who are called in to help a floundering sales lot during their big Fourth of July sale. The team is built of Jibby (Ving Rhames), a masculine-yet-sensitive muscle man, Brent (David Koechner), the magician-tactician and numbers wiz, Babs (Kathryn Hahn), who serves little more purpose than to show us exactly how much botox is too much botox, and their leader Don Ready (Jeremy Piven), nicknamed “The Goods.”
The film proves funny enough, with a relatively familiar cast more than able to perform their roles and the directors and writers ride the wave of success pushed by mild absurdist comedies such as “Anchorman” and “Walk Hard.” Hell, there’s even a cameo by Will Ferrell, which is one of his better appearances. But still, the film comes just short of its mark with one major flaw.
That major problem is, hands down, in the script. The comedy was there, don’t get me wrong, the actors were capable and the lines were funny. However, in most cases, there is a solid and established story, and the humor works in support. Here, though, there are merely skeletal plot points, with little-to-no substance in between to form a story that seems to be tossed together as an after-thought a few nights after the writers finished jotting down the humor.
I know this can be said about numerous movies, but never has it been so painful and obvious than in “The Goods.” A romance is ignited, complicated, and resolved in as few as three highly inconsequential scenes. The possibility of an illegitimate child is brought up in one scene, played along in another, and never fully resolved. Characters mention events, people, predicaments that are meaningless and irrelevant and never given proper explanation or closure. These are the trademarks of a poorly thought-out script.
The performances are, mostly, adequate given the task presented. There are a few that stand out, the least of which is not that of Ving Rhames, who never disappoints. His is the only character that demonstrates any dimension, however little (he admits that he’s never made love – sure, he’s had sex, but never truly made love). And, of course, the criminally underused Piven is fantastic in his title role steals the show and displays great promise for future endeavors.
If you can handle the jaunty story and poorly constructed script, then you’ll be in for a treat. The comedy remains at a constant level and if you can tone out all the scriptural errors, you’ll get a good laugh. Never does the film presume its intelligence and, at the same time, it doesn’t balk at stooping to the lows, giving you a film that you don’t have to think too much about. It’s just a shame that the comedy is the only thing the film has to offer.
So, maybe “Used Cars” is a little similar to “The Goods.” These comedies are going to be coming until the end of time, and until there are major changes in the laws of physics, biology, psychology, and sociology, Hollywood will only continue to recycle old ideas and tropes. All we can do as audience members is learn to cope, or get to work on rewiring the human brain or perfecting that anti-gravity machine. For my money, though, I still say “Used Cars” is better.