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‘Cadillac Man’

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 18, 1990


Roger Donaldson
Robin Williams;
Tim Robbins;
Pamela Reed;
Fran Drescher;
Zack Norman
Under 17 restricted

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Just about the time you expect "Cadillac Man," the new Robin Williams comedy, to fly to pieces, a funny thing happens.

It begins to work.

"Cadillac Man," directed by Roger Donaldson ("Cocktail") from a Ken Friedman script, is coarse and haphazardly engineered and never more than intermittently funny. But Williams is a resourceful, invigorating performer. Even if his material is third-rate (as it is here), he never stops pitching it, hustling, working the angles, trying to make a sale. And he manages not so much to redeem the movie as to rescue it from complete disaster.

It takes a while for the performance to gather momentum; it's not until Tim Robbins storms in as a deranged jealous husband that the picture slips into a sustained groove. Prior to this the details of the story are shoved clumsily into our faces, without concern for originality or even relevance. They're presented because, well, that's what a movie does, isn't it? We learn that Joey (Williams) is a high-pressure salesman for a dealer in Queens, top end cars, Caddies, BMWs, Jaguars, and that he has a taste for women -- all women -- and that this little character trait has cost him his marriage (to the belligerently no-nonsense Pamela Reed) and put him in a precarious position at work.

As the movie opens, Joey addresses the camera, telling us that he loves to sell, that at the moment a deal is sealed he is the closest he can ever come to another human being. "That is, without protection," he adds. Joey knows a thing or two about getting close (and, you hope, about protection). Joey's current ledger of playthings includes Lila (Lori Petty), a flamethrower redhead (when she's wearing her wig) who designs offbeat fashions, and Joy (Fran Drescher), the young, pampered wife of a wealthy older man (Zack Norman).

The movie's central premise is that Joey's livelihood is on the line. On the day before the dealership's big sale, he's told that if he wants to hold onto his job he has to sell 12 units. And for a time, Donaldson takes this wrinkle seriously, focusing on Joey's desperation to make the requisite sales. But when Robbins's maniacal Larry crashes through the front door of the showroom on his motorcycle, brandishes an automatic rifle and takes everyone hostage, most of what the filmmakers have set up goes up in flames.

What's left of the film is an improv situation with Williams and Robbins running through the variations on their captive/captor relationship. Larry, as it turns out, is rather sweet (though not too bright) and easily manipulated. It's because Larry suspects his wife (Annabella Sciorra) of cheating on him with one of the salesmen that he takes this headlong crazy plunge. As Robbins plays him, he's a romantic nincompoop, all frayed nerves and hurt puppydog feelings. Physically, the two stars match up nicely, and Robbins's syrupy-slow thought processes are an excellent counterpoint to Williams's lightning-bolt flourishes. Watching them, you think, at last Williams has been given someone of comparable talent to play with.

Still, this is far from a dream project for either actor. There's only one way, really, for the picture to end, and the filmmakers' attempts to resolve the conflicts in Joey's life and pull off an upbeat ending are disastrously lame. Perhaps the most baffling note of all is that, though Joey is set up as a lady's man, he's not the one who slept with Larry's wife, which means that it wasn't necessary to establish his romantic prowess in the first place. As a result, Joey's entire character structure is a kind of red herring. Movies die from loose ends like this.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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