The Arizona made feature ‘Car Dogs’ is finally hitting the theaters today. The film opens valley wide at select Harkins Theaters. Directed by ASU film instructor Adam Collis, ‘Car Dogs’ is the first-of-its-kind feature film created in conjunction with the ASU Film and Media Program.
Car salesman Mark Chamberlain (Patrick J. Adams) has just been given an ultimatum by his wife: either the car biz or me. As tears well in Mark’s eyes, the owner of the car dealership, his father Malcolm Chamberlain (Chris Mulkey) calls him in for an important meeting. Mark asks pop to postpone so that he can save his marriage but Malcolm makes it very clear to his son that he couldn’t care less about his failing marriage. Pops lays it all out: sell 300 cars in the next 8 hours and Mark will have his own dealership, adding just a few teeny tiny caveats like; you also have to fire the guy who’s been with the company for 20 years, tell all of the salesman they aren’t getting paid, and if they do ask for money, throw a couple of twenties at them. Mark assembles the sales team and gives them the game plan, omitting the part about getting his own dealership but emphasizing the fact that although they are not going to get paid, not going to get bonuses, basically not going to get diddly squat for their hard work today, their efforts will reflect positively on their moral character. Veteran salesman Christian (George Lopez) teams up with neophyte Tyler (Joe Massingill) whom all of the salesman refer to as ‘Green Pea,’ while sexy but serious saleswoman Sharon (Nia Vardalos) cranks up the charm to land the chumps. Mark’s longtime pal, sales manager Boyd (Cory Hardrict) is all set for the perfect storm of scammery, only he’s having serious issues with the overtly racist sales lead Mike Reynolds (Josh Hopkins). Mark assures Boyd that if he can put up with the threats and harassment just a little bit longer, someday he’ll be able to work for nothing in a dealership free of racism, more than likely, probably, pretty much. There’s hijinks and hot-dogs, double dealing double crossers and a slurry of ethnic jokes to be had as the sleazy salesmen freely rip off the rubes for the next eight hours in order to achieve their goal.
Car Dogs takes the intense, boiler room style drama to very familiar territory as it works diligently to present new angles on an old theme; sell X amount of cars by Y or Z will happen (or not happen). Traversed in such films as ‘The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard’ (2009) and ‘Cadillac Man’ (1990), Car Dogs presents this customary tale with a slick and stylish offering of fast rewind/recaps, clever angles and starkly lit images. With the entire story being played out in the course of an eight hour workday, the claustrophobic nature of the film actually works well in this story. On the rare instances that we venture away from the dealership, the location is revealed by a drone flying over the desert. Swooping over a ring of mountains, it arrives at the isolated site, seemingly walled off from the outside world. The evil is contained within the canyon and only foolhardy mortals dare make the journey to this establishment. The dialog is heavily laden with dealer-speak; the secret language spoken only by carnies, filmmakers and cops and derived to elevate and subjugate in the same sentence. The lingo used in the film is mildly catchy at first but quickly becomes perversely pejorative. From the get go, it becomes quite a task to root for the salesman who are really no smarter than the customers they are so determined to rip off. With nothing but a carrot on a stick to motivate them, they measure their accomplishments at the end of the day by the number of people they have screwed over; both customers and co-workers. They all shrug at another empty payday while Chris shows off the impressive pay stub from his last bonus, the one he got nine years ago! While the scenes are stitched together well with machine gun dialog delivery, the weight and depth of the story is quickly rolled out and flattened by the grinding, relentless revulsion and disdain for humanity the subjects so eagerly reveal.
George Lopez is on board as the Fonzie and earns every penny for this production, bringing seasoned sincerity when it is needed the most, and comic relief that audiences have come to this movie expecting. All of the performances in Car Dogs are solid, with every actor checking in to capitalize on their character. While everyone did their job and did it well, the serious props for this film have to go to Joe Massingill as Green Pea. Massingill has the seemingly unenviable task of playing second to George Lopez’s character Chris. Massingill and Lopez are perfect on screen together, never upstaging the experienced comedian, yet never reigning in his own comedic ability and timing. Massingill’s performance singles himself out as the one you root for, feel sorry for, and empathize with as the relatively innocent newcomer to this obscene territory. Car Dogs provides another excellent example of what can be accomplished in local filmmaking when seasoned actors take the lead, while allowing local talent to feed off of that set energy, bringing the professionalism up a notch and stimulating stronger performances from the entire cast.
Technically, Car Dogs is top notch and director Collis is in no way rusty after a long hiatus from feature filmmaking. Collis still has his chops and brings home a very polished product with no sound or editing issues. The story movies forward at a reasonable pace and there are just enough subtleties to keep you anticipating what might be lurking around the next corner. The echoing sound of the ticking clock that keeps returning to torment Mark is perspicuous and playful and helps a lot to remind us why we are interested in these scoundrels in the first place. The combination of local talent side-by-side with seasoned Hollywood veterans, both onscreen and behind the scenes, fills this production with vitality and unity. An energy ignited by a cast and crew eager to be a positive force in local filmmaking. See what can be accomplished when positive forces combine to create a film with the spit and polish of a Hollywood feature, and the tenacity and talent found right here at home.
Final Take – Rabid.
Car Dogs premieres today valley wide at these select Harkins Theatres:
Avondale, Gateway Pavilions 18
Casa Grande, Casa Grande 14
Chandler, Chandler Fashion 20
Flagstaff, Flagstaff 11
Mesa, Superstition Springs 25
Phoenix, Christown 14
Phoenix, North Valley 16
Prescott Valley, Prescott Valley 14
Scottsdale, Shea 14
Tempe, Arizona Mills 24
Tempe, Marketplace 16
- Car Dogs
Conniving car dealers have 8 hours to sell 300 cars. Hijinks ensue.