Friday, 31 December 2010

Moving Violations (1985)

...poses a high terror threat to the TV screen for anyone short of fuse and heavy of boot...

Moving Violations (1985, Neil Israel)

Starring: John Murray, Jennifer Tilly, Wendy Jo Sperber, Nedra Volz, Don Cheadle, Sally Kellerman, Fred Willard, DeDee Pfeiffer.

Box Notables: Betamax box.

Taglne: ‘A crash course in traffic school from the creators of Police Academy

Trailers: Bad Medicine, Grandview USA, The Man With One Red Shoe, Warning Sign

Cherrypick: “Last week I reamed out Roger Moore; he was completely satisfied.”

Aside from the right to bear arms and a day off to watch the Super Bowl, nothing is more sacred to the average American than their inalienable liberty to unhindered vehicular perambulation up to and including driving a flaming RV crammed full of Twinkies, migrant workers and porno into the Grand Canyon if they should so goddamn please. With this in mind it should really have come as no great surprise to the makers of Moving Violations that when their film was released in the US, its central theme – the revocation of citizens’ driving licenses by an unbending police state – was viewed by the smattering of shifty hoopleheads tricked into cinemas by a title evocative of hardcore rutting as nothing short of a deranged pinko attack on the very pioneer spirit that made their nation great. It was, though, quite understandable that - slack-jawed at the continuing success of Police Academy’s soft-peddled sedition and heavily self-censored anarchy - MV’s producers should similarly delve into the minutiae of correctional life to come up with this hellacious traffic school romp that plays like a cross between The Breakfast Club and Bridge on the River Kwai

And how!
Via a bemusing compendium of the tame, jocularity-gratis fender-benders that have landed them in traffic school, this DUI of a movie introduces us to an ensemble cast of pinheads that includes such soothing staples as a sweet little old dowager who will swear loudly before we’re done, an uptight Jewish accountant (who else but Brian Backer?), a streetwise Latino drive-by artisan and a toothy black kid with big glasses and adidas headband who’s busy rocking the 'hustlin’ dweeb' vibe (and who also threatens to pad out the films inevitable musical montage with some robotic dancing).

Once this tacky grab barrel of disposable typecasts have been ticked off, the film settles on a battle of wills between The Brothers Time Forgot that witnesses James (not Stacy) Keach’s busted down California Highway Patrolman fronting up to sickening smug-nugget John (not Bill) Murray across the broken line of Golden State traffic enforcement and all the intense homo-eroticism that jodhpur-clad milieu connotes. Making Ferris Bueller look like Noam Chomsky, Murray oozes from scene to scene on particle-accelerated smarm greased by shit-for-brained wisecracks that are aimed at no-one and apropos of nothing. His every appearance poses a high terror threat to the TV screen for anyone short of fuse and heavy of boot, but it is made quite explicit that we, the viewers, have been drafted onto his team for the next ninety minutes or so of busy innuendo and lowbrow treachery.
Granny takes a trip
Possibly sensing that we might need more than the wearisome one-upmanship of these pratfalling clods to keep us interested, the writers have also thrown in a Watergate-level scam in which Keach colludes with the head of the school – ice-blonde M*A*S*H MILF Sally Kellerman - to fail the entire class, sell off their subsequently impounded rustbuckets and risk life imprisonment for a shot at the chicken feed goldmine promised from the proceeds of wholesaling a second hand fleet of rapidly depreciating Hyundais with mismatched hubcaps, front lawn paintjobs and milk stains on the back seats.

Who’re the smartest guys in the room now, Enron? Eh?

Where Moving Violations scores most heavily though is in its valiant attempt to unravel the ever-present theme that spirals through the ERH DNA double-helix parallel to the uncrackable sub-human genome code of ‘Why #m I W#tching This Sh@t?’ - the secret obsession of all authority figures with bondage, closet transvestism and semi-consensual bum sex. We only have to look at the predominant culture of the period to see that Eighties movies' regular unmasking of police chiefs (The Choirboys), college deans (King Frat) and members of the judiciary (…And Justice For All) as dipsomaniac sex perverts and regressive mammy-rammers to witness an unconscious testimony to the loss of faith in elected officials that was spreading like mildfire through a disconcerted populace.
Dodgy alternator?
But ultimately this is a School Movie, and learning - if not hugging, which in this world is strictly for fags – is the desired outcome. So it is that we come to vaguely understand a number of things: that although they might look good on the storyboard, zero gravity sex scenes need more than the asset-stripped set of Car Wars and the kind of effects budget you can put together by asking the crew to empty their pockets after lunch ($16.87, since you ask); that if you’re as awkward and virginal as Brian Backer, it’s actually OK - and even pretty funny - to wind up in bed with a 14 year old girl, provided her Teamster dad doesn’t catch you at it; but most of all, that even the worst movie can be redeemed by the creation of a gold standard running gag in which a garage owner named ‘Doc’ is confused with an actual medical professional by a peaky young lass and goes on to outline a course of repairs for her backfiring car that she mistakenly thinks is for her botty problems - a regimen of oil-filling, rear-end lubing, and sump draining that relies on a series of sublime misunderstandings that approach genius in their construction and outright horror in their graphic execution.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is the true lesson MV has to teach us: moving is rarely comedy dynamite. But violation? You can really go somewhere with that…


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