Cadillac Man (1990)

Info SidebarThe death of Robin Williams has piqued in me an interest to catch some of his movies that I have missed. Recently, I reviewed Popeye (his acting debut), Bicentennial Man, and Toys. Popeye was a whimsical musical, based on the eponymous cartoon series. It had clear vision and suitable design, and Williams knuckled down in his duties as the hero. Bicentennial Man, a movie about a robot who becomes human, soured a great idea with damp sentimentality. And Toys just left a bland taste in my mouth.

Now I review Cadillac Man, a supposed comedy about how a car salesman tries to talk himself out of getting killed by a manic kidnapper in his very own showroom. The salesman is played by Williams and the kidnapper by Tim Robbins, and the entire movie is played by a hoard of actors who do nothing except to overload the circuitry. There are too many characters criss-crossing their way into the plot, trying to butt heads with each other while begging for the audience to laugh at their confusion and misfortune. This is needless because the story only needs Williams and Robbins. Everyone else is an add-on.

But I guess the joke is in there somewhere. The kink about Williams’ character, Joey O’Brien, is that he can’t control himself with the ladies. He has an ex-wife (Pamela Reed) and a small army of mistresses, all of whom think they are the centres of his universe. The joke about this malfunction is meant to manifest itself during Cadillac Man’s climax, when Joey is held at gunpoint and all his women, one way or another, find their way into the showroom and discover that no, they are in fact not the centres of his universe. By the time this happens though, we are too busy trying to keep up with the other peripheral characters to whom the screenplay tries desperately to imbue with credible personalities. There are Joey’s colleagues, his customers, a dog, the police, and an FBI captain (Anthony Powers) who sets up camp in the Chinese restaurant across the road and argues with the waitress over the bill. All the while Larry, the kidnapper, fails to live up to his moniker.

What is even more upsetting, however, is the abrupt shift in tone and direction the plot takes. The movie begins with Joey. He is faced with a crisis: He has to sell 12 cars in a day or he is fired and the showroom he works for will close down. This sets up the possibility of a series of hardcore sales pitches and underhanded tactics to win customers over and meet the quota; to sell 12 cars in 24 hours, that must be some kind of record. But this never happens. Before Joey can entice his first victim, Larry comes crashing through the showroom display window on a bike, armed with an AK-47. He is disgruntled because his wife Donna (Annabella Sciorra) has been sleeping with one of Joey’s colleagues, and now he has come to find out who.

And then the movie slows down to ease the audience into the relationship between Joey and Larry, who forge an uneasy friendship. All the car-selling we see in the beginning is replaced by grunts and groans, gunfire, police sirens and the ladies screaming for dear life. Director Roger Donaldson hands us two separate movies on a plate and denies us the choice of which one we want to see. What if the screenplay had stuck with Joey’s mission? Or if it had begun with Larry crashing through the window? What if, in short, it had picked a path and stayed with it from start to finish?

There are a handful of funny bits, but most of Cadillac Man is a wry exercise in improvisation as Williams comes up with all sorts of stories to try and coax Larry into surrendering. It gets boring after a while, especially since we’ve been expecting newly sold cars to drive out of the showroom doors. I’m not quite sure why the movie’s called Cadillac Man either. Okay, so Joey is a man, and he drives a Cadillac. Does this mean Platoon should be called Soldiers With Guns?


Best Moment | Nope.

Worst Moment | The awkward opening scene in which Joey tries to sell cars during a funeral.

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