Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Savant stopped going to Robin Williams vehicles when they became altogether too treacly or insulting,
but Cadillac Man, one of his older flops, just happens to be one of his best. Working with a decent director and
a funny script, Williams plays a believable character who by sheer nerve and recklessness, has made
a mess of his life. Loopy Tim Robbins' hostage seige provides him with the opportunity to redeem
himself, using that same nerve and recklessness.
Car salesman Joey O'Brien (Robin Williams) is burning his candle at three ends at once,
trying to keep up with his ex-wife Tina (Pamela Reed), his 20-something designer girlfriend Lila
(Lori Petty) and his steadiest girl, Joy (Fran Drescher), who happens to be married. The pressure is
on at Turgeon motors for big Sunday sales, and Joey can't seem to get his day together, what with
the interruptions from the women in his life, including his mother (Mimi Cecchini) and the fact that
three of his hoped-for sales opportunities show up at the same time, demanding his attention. Then
the crazed Larry (Tim Robbins) crashes his motorcycle through the showroom window, brandishing
a bomb and holding everyone hostage - he thinks his wife Donna (Annabella Sciorra) is running out
on him with one of the salesmen, and he's ready to shoot them all. In a flash of fast-talking
desperation, Joey falsely confesses - and starts the slow and hilarious process of trying to talk some
sense into the disoriented, trigger-happy Larry.
For Orion Pictures, 1990 was the best of times and the worst of times. A prolific and creative studio,
for their every hit there were four expensive bombs, and their 1990 lineup contained what should have
been a solid pack of winners. The duds were heavyduty losers - Navy Seals, a pandering and
action-impaired combat flick; The Hot Spot, a moody Texas noir ruined by director
Dennis Hopper's bad editing decisions, and Mermaids, an interesting Cher vehicle,
ruined by yet more cowardly editing decisions. By the time these pictures were ready to go out, Orion
barely had the money to promote them and was running up unpaid bills all over town. What would have
been a surefire winner, The Addams Family, went to Paramount in a fire sale to keep the roof on.
And both Silence of the Lambs and Dances with Wolves were mortgaged so deep, there was
no chance of profiting from them. Two best-picture Oscars came from this batch, and yet a year later
Orion was way past the point of no return, and folded not much later.
I say all that because there's no good reason why Cadillac Man had to be a failure. It was
drop-dead funny, Robin Williams was hot and Tim Robbins was on his way up, and in 1990 people
weren't as sensitive as they are now to the idea of a hostage situation being a comedy.
The start is slow, and for a bit it's easy to think that this a jokey first draft
for Glengarry Glen Ross, with hucksters pushing cars instead of houses. Joey's barely
paying attention to his work, what with the expensive upkeep on his fools' harem. Other salesmen are
quitting because Molly (Judith Hoag), the agency's top seller, will easily win the sales
race by using her legs to attract the customers. For his part, Joey's as promiscuous as he is
sales-happy, and just doesn't know how to stop chasing skirts. His mother is a cute nag
who wants him to get back with his wife (the always intelligent-looking Pamela Reed). His 20-something
girlfriend (Lori Petty, later to become Tank Girl) is an emotional mess with terrible taste,
and needs constant bolstering. And his adulterous girlfriend Joy (the always-funny Fran Drescher)
has plans to snag Joey for herself, while retaining zillions in luxury money from her rich
Having Tim Robbins take over the dealership at this point doesn't sound like an inspired plot
point, but the show doesn't fall apart because of a clever character development: Joey turns
unlikely hero. He takes the rap for Donna's infidelity, even though the real culprit, the son
of the dealership owner, is right there. As a car salesman, Joey has a fast wit and a creeping
insincerity, that work against his efforts to connect with a guy who might blow his head off
at any moment. But realizing that he's the closest thing to a take-charge character among the
hostages forces his hand. Joey takes the responsibility for someone else's indiscretion, as if
atoning for his own lousy judgement. This is why we like him, and care about him. Even though it's
a comedy, Joey has an edge that's missing from Robin Williams' usual soggy nice guys. He swears
a blue streak and makes obscene suggestions to women. He sees a broken-down hearse at the head of
a line of cars as a sales opportunity - and talks up the funeral home owner and the widow (Elaine
The script and the no-nonsense direction approach the comedy directly and come away with a constant
flow of effective, un-P.C. laughs. Helen, the proprietress of the Chinese restaurant commandeered
by the police, is fall-down funny, especially when she bursts from the crowd to shout a final
bit of advice for Joey. Fran Drescher has the single funniest line when she shuts up her obnoxious dog
by screaming louder than it can. And Tim Robbins and Robin Williams play off one another
perfectly - in character, as opposed to the stand-up shenanigans of something like Good Morning,
Vietnam. As there's plenty of funny negotiations on the phone, some of the comedy is
reminiscent of Bob Newhart humor.
Broad but believable, and with an ending that's not a downer, Cadillac Man is just a fun
film that should have been a hit. It's one of Robin Williams' best.
MGM's Cadillac Man is yet another 'minor' DVD given a plainwrap but quality presentation.
The handsome 16:9 transfer shows just the tiniest bit of digital grain every once in awhile, as if
one more pass, to up the bit rate here and there, would have made it perfect. On all but the biggest
monitors, it looks superb. The only extra is the awful trailer, that uses a lot of unfunny 'Robin
Williams sells cars' material wisely cut from the film. It also puts the story in
exactly the wrong focus, concentrating only on Williams' patter.
The box art features the most unimaginative head shots of the film's two stars that Savant's yet seen.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Cadillac Man rates:
Movie: Very Good
Packaging: Amaray case
Reviewed: April 22, 2002
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2002 Glenn Erickson
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