I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane

tn_fordfairlaneWhat the fuck is this? is a fair reaction to the existence of FORD FAIRLANE. All you can really do is try to set your mindclock back to 1989 and picture it from the perspective of the people setting it up.

I mean you got the hottest action producer, Joel Silver of DIE HARD and LETHAL WEAPON fame. He’s got the rights to this “rock ‘n roll detective” character taken from some magazine column or Herfy’s tray-liner comic strip or something. To rewrite the script he hires Daniel Waters, hot shit young writer of HEATHERS in his first for-hire job. But who can we get to direct? Who is rock ‘n roll enough? How about that Finnish guy who did NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4? His hair is practically to his ass, I think he could do it. Renny Harlin had been toiling away on a version of ALIEN 3 that never got made, and this was kind of his entry into the world of action. In fact, Joel Silver hired him for DIE HARD 2 after seeing the dailies for this one.

mp_fordfairlaneSo they had these hungry young, not-yet-burnt-out newcomers behind the camera, but these days nobody remembers that. They only remember the star, Andrew “Dice” Clay. It hadn’t been originally written as a vehicle for him, but after he signed on obviously they rewrote it to be about an obnoxious sexist asshole dickhead Elvis impersonating dweeb who insults everybody and makes jokes and then says “Ooooohhhh!”

It’s kind of a weird idea, actually. Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger – all of these guys made action movies where they said funny lines. This is also an action movie, but instead of funny lines he has jokes. He says the line and then “waaaaaaahhhH!” or “Whoooahhh!” or “Un-buh-LEEV-uh-bull!” so you know that was the punchline. Some kind of vaudeville thing or something. It’s like if Johnny Carson had made a cop movie and after he shoots the bad guy he makes a joke and then mimes swinging a golf club.

I guess I should explain in case – and I really hope this is the case – the younger generations and people from other countries don’t know who the hell Andrew “Dice” Clay is. He is a comedian and phenomenon that could’ve only existed in the ’80s. He’s got a pompadour and sideburns and his persona is an arrogant dude from Brooklyn who brags about who he’s fucked and things like that. Right around the time this movie was being made he was becoming hugely popular, but also controversial because his jokes were so misogynistic and sometimes homophobic and what not. It became kind of a big deal when he was hosting Saturday Night Live and a couple women in the cast refused to be in the episode.

Of course, it’s the same old dumb argument. The defense is that he’s playing a character, he’s not serious about all that stuff. Which is obviously true. You’re not supposed to take it 100% literally. But then, on the other hand, it’s not like you’re supposed to hate this character. You’re supposed to think he’s the fuckin man. So I can’t really blame those women for not wanting to work with the guy. If it really is only a character and nothing like the real guy then congratulations, you did a good job, people believe you really are a complete dickhead. It’s a testament to your acting.

The movie takes that persona and puts him in the middle of an action movie. I don’t know why, but in the ’80s the way to make a guy cool was to give him sunglasses and have him be into old music. Even Bruce in the first episode of MOONLIGHTING is supposed to be cool because he sings “Doo Wah Ditty.” This guy, Ford Fairlane, goes around with a pompadour and an asinine cowhide jacket (like something stolen from the TOY STORY part of the parade at Disneyland), he steals the microphone in a studio and does a cheesy rock song with copied Elvis moves, but everybody thinks he’s the coolest guy ever and women let him take advantage of them. I don’t really get it. He’s like Howard the Duck in human form or something.

As dumb as the character is, I actually think the weirdness of this movie is kind of funny. Harlin shoots it like a real Joel Silver action movie, complete with sunsets, explosions, stunts and elaborate sets. It honestly looks really good, and you don’t usually get that in a cheesy comedy. Waters writes it as a cartoonish exaggeration. The most normal one-liner is “So many assholes, so few bullets.”  In one scene Ford is chasing a creepy stalker (David Patrick Kelly from THE WARRIORS) and he shoots a disco ball so it’ll fall on his head. Then he announces “Clint Eastwood? I fucked him.”

What? I don’t really get it, but I sort of appreciate the audacity of a movie where the hero brags about fucking Clint Eastwood. I mean I gotta admit it, I laughed. And I can’t even be sure it if it was on some meta-ironical type level or if I was just laughing at the joke as intended, because I don’t really understand what the joke intended. But I laughed. (When he goes to a mansion we learn that he fucked Robin Leach too.)

How sexist is Ford Fairlane? Well, when he wakes up in bed with hot twins he says “Do the dishes!” They get mad and leave saying “We just wanted to be held, Ford!” So he blew it. Lauren Holly plays Ford’s shat-upon girl friday Jazz, who is a sympathetic character except for the inexplicable detail that she loves Ford. She tries to impress him but he humiliates her and spits food into her mouth (!?). We learn that they had a fling once but afterwards he made her clean the toilets and the bath tub.

Like Dick Tracy and other characters of the era, Ford has a streetwise orphan kid who follows him around and copies what he does, including wearing dumb looking Boz sunglasses, smoking cigarettes and cursing. I think this is Waters’ way of teasing people for saying Dice is a bad role model. (No shit.) What Ford has that Dick Tracy does not is a pet koala. For some reason every once in a while he’s hanging out with this koala that’s obviously a puppet. Then in one scene he comes home and the thugs have hung the koala by a noose from his ceiling fan. What’s great is this is played as a serious moment exactly like if he’d come home to find his maid or his little sister killed as a message to him. But it’s a fuckin koala puppet, you gotta laugh.

Good cast, too – Wayne Newton is the villain, Morris Day of The Time is a music producer (no Jerome, unfortunately), Gilbert Gottfried is a shock jock who gets electrocuted (get it, shock?), Robert Englund is a sadistic killer who I think is supposed to be dressed as the guy from Judas Priest, Tone Loc and Sheila E. have cameos. Okay, maybe not that great of a cast, but I kind of like seeing these people. Priscilla Presley has a small role too, you have to wonder what she thinks of this asshole who thinks he’s Elvis.

The biggest thing going against the movie is Dice/Ford’s lack of charm. At times it’s kind of funny how over-the-top his dickishness is, or his lack of humanity (in order to get information from him the bad guys don’t torture him, or the girl that’s with him, they torture his Jimi Hendrix guitar – and it works). But because he’s so fond of himself and he’s so corny with his look and everything it kind of rubs me the wrong way. I mean, I can root for an asshole like Billy Bob Thornton in BAD SANTA, but he knows he’s a piece of shit, and he doesn’t wear Boz glasses. Hmm, on the other hand, I can also root for Danny McBride asshole characters, and in EAST BOUND AND DOWN I’m pretty sure he does wear Boz glasses. So I don’t really know where the line is drawn. All I know is they should do a Ford Fairlane reboot starring Danny McBride.

I think there’s a category of weird studio mistakes of the ’80s and ’90s like HOWARD THE DUCK, HUDSON HAWK (also written by Waters) and LAST ACTION HERO (which also shares a writer). These are all movies that try to be kind of a parody of a studio movie and a real studio movie at the same time. They have big expensive action scenes but a purposely ridiculous world. Fairlane has a puppet koala, Last Action Hero has a cartoon cat. I don’t know about HOWARD THE DUCK but these other ones have some good qualities that get swept under the rug when they win all the Raspberry awards from some prick who never even saw the movie. So people want to stand up for them, they get kind of a cult following because they seem sort of misunderstood, even if they’re not great. You can admire what they were going for, at least.

FORD FAIRLANE is kind of in that category, a weird movie that doesn’t really work, but just the fact that they went through with making it makes me kind of root for it. Not the character – I kind of wish he died at the end. But I sort of liked the movie.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Saturday, May 23rd, 2009 at 12:37 am and is filed under Action, Comedy/Laffs, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

42 Responses to “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane”

  1. This is one of these movies that are on my watchlist like forever. But after your review, I seriously must watch this movie as soon as possible.

  2. Renny Harlin left Alien 3 (which obviously ended up being directed by David Fincher) to direct Ford Fairlane which spawned a hit video for Billy Idol’s “Cradle of Love” which was directed by David Fincher.

    I’m not sure what it all means but maybe someone will read this and use it in an episode of Pop-Up Video.

  3. I don’t understand why in so many action movies the protagonist is a sexist , misogynistic or chick magnet douche bag .I mean , I tried to watch the opening of Bad Boys 2 , and the character of Will Smith is so stereotypical it’s not even funny , it makes your eyes bleed. It would be fun to have a badass character who , in the presence of a woman , starts stuttering or something.
    “N-n-n-i-i-c-e t-t-t-i-t-t-s , l-l-l-a-d-d-d-y!”.Or maybe he covers his balls with both hands , like a dog with the tail.The possibilities are endless , and it fits Vern’s Badass Theory.

    Also :“Clint Eastwood? I fucked him”.It’s just priceless.

  4. CrustaceanHate

    May 23rd, 2009 at 5:40 am

    I watched about 20 mins of this film on TV before I had to turn it off. I can respect an interesting failure, but not one starring Andrew Dice fuckin’ Clay. That guy rubs me the wrong way, and for pretty much the reasons you mentioned. I really hate comedians who’s entire act revolves around being “politically incorrect”. It’s just lazy comedy. Although that Clint Eastwood line approaches Death Race’s “We’ll see who shits on the sidewalk” line for glorious nonsense.

    Did the koala attack anybody? Koalas have some serious claws on them and are pretty cantankerous in the wild. If the koala fucked anybody up I think I might give the film a second shot.

  5. This looks too dumb not to watch
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQ9y4Teku9E
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-vUpXEWpUs
    “See that’s the difference between a real investigator like me, and a piece of Spam like you.”
    “Spam? YOU’RE a piece of Spam.” Nice comeback…?
    Also, I’d like to see a movie where a character turns down a threesome with twins because they don’t want to be a part of incest. Everyone always overlooks that aspect.
    I don’t mind Last Action Hero too much. It’s a bit broad and yeah, the animated cat makes it too ridiculous, but I do like the over the top parodies in it and Charles Dance as the genre-savvy villain.

  6. abadabing crosby

    May 23rd, 2009 at 8:10 am

    I think we all know misogynistic douchebags who scored insanely well with many babes. There’s something about the psychology of women and what they perceive to be alpha males, even parodies of alpha males, that I don’t get.

  7. Hate to say it – but I LOVE the movie! Can’t tell you why, but it pushes all my right buttons. Me and my pals quoted from it for years.

    And I don’t think your assessment of the lead character is correct: He may be an ass, but he’s an honest ass. In LA. A town of weirdos, psychos, and pathological liars. Look at the characters he interacts with – compared to them, he is a boyscout. Apart from Jazz and the kid, there are no likable characters around – and you know that Ford would give his life for the two. In the end, he is actually a husband and a dad – sort of…

  8. caruso_stalker217

    May 23rd, 2009 at 9:48 am

    “He’s like Howard the Duck in human form or something.”

    I must watch this immediately.

  9. Hey Torsten, don’t feel alone because I rather like this movie too. And I love Hudson Hawk! That’s probably my favourite non-Die Hard Bruce movie. I’m pretty fond of Last Action Hero. Howard the Duck is where I draw the line though.

  10. Great review, as usual. i never would have watchesd this, but now i just really want to see the koala.

  11. Now I gotta rewatch this one for the first time since I saw it on cable in the early 90s. And I was too young then to get any of it anyway. Harlin flicks usually have a weird watchability to them. A sweet follow up to this gem would be Albert Pyun’s opus Brainsmasher: A Love Story.

  12. I have fond memories too. Isn’t there a whole fun spin on the PI-has-some-long-standing-beef-with-the-cops/brass/authority trope? Something like Ed O’neil’s chief dick character wanted to a pop-star and Ford fucked it up for him.

    And there is no shame in enjoying “Clint Eastwood? I fucked him.” It is completely fantastic.

  13. Great review, even though I think Fairlane, as a character is hilarious. When he receives a random message on his answering machine from a girl “Hey Ford, I can walk again. Call me!” his machismo becomes so over the top, that you can’t take him any more serious than Duke Nukem or… William Shatner. He becomes a parody of every action hero you hate (Yes, looking at you Will Smith). He is a complete cartoon, who alienates a good chunk of his possible audience, kinda like Al Bundy (which is funny, since Ed O’neil is playing a really weird police officer in the movie). I can really welcome an action hero, who barely has any redeeming qualities, but is entertaining as all hell to watch. It’s not that different, what Vin Diesel tries to do with Riddick, but without the ridiculous notion that he’s a serious character. (Fairlane’s manliness knows no bounds, there’s a scene when a dead bimbo comes back to life, from the power of Ford’s Y chromosome.) . It’s a great film to watch with alcohol and friends.

  14. Great Unwashed

    May 23rd, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    I will probably never see this movie, but at least now I know about that Clint Eastwood line. It’s a valuable public service you provide here, Vern.

    Also, I am one of these young people who really doesn’t know jack about Andrew Dice Clay. I think people my age who like a bit of stand-up have probably heard the name, but no-one really cares like they do about, say, Bill Hicks, who was also an asshole on stage, but in the best possible way.

  15. Also, Bill Hicks was a prophet, while Clay was just a douche.

  16. Prophet? I think that’s going a bit far but OK.

    Dice was/is a douche but I have to admit I find some of his stand up funny in a very base way. And we’ve had popular comedians in the UK that are far more unpleasant, and sadly they definitely weren’t joking.

  17. When you mentioned movies that try to be a parody of a studio movie but also a studio movie at the same time what I thought of was “Demolition Man” which Daniel Waters (who I see as the WD Richter of the 90’s) and Joel Silver worked on.

  18. “Clint Eastwood? I fucked him.” That means that Ford “made him his bitch.” That’s basically it. Or like saying “Clint Eastwood has nothing on me!” But the joke is that it’s a brutally blunt put-down. And coming from Clay, it’s funny because he’s often a homophobe.

    Anyway…this one is worth watching for when, at the end, Newton lists all the bad things he has done in the movie and then adds “AND I PISSED IN THE PUNCH BOWL, TOO!”

    Have you reviewed HUDSON HAWK, Vern? I love that film. It’s the only self-indulgent movie any actor has ever made that is entertaining. The whole weird way they “time” their robberies by knowing the exact playing time of classic songs and then being able to follow those songs in sync (in their heads, but show on the screen in a musical number)–that’s pretty weird and inspired. Not a brilliant film, but still funny enough. Also, it’s great to see that asshole David Caruso from that stupid CSI:MIAMI show acting like a doofus in his role as one of the agents.

  19. ws: Good call, I could’ve included DEMOLITION MAN on the list. I was thinking about re-watching that one too.

    Fletcher: I haven’t seen HUDSON HAWK in years, but I might have to pick that up soon.

  20. I have the laserdisc of this film framed on my wall.

  21. Unless I’m mistaken, while Harlin shot FORD FAIRLANE before he shot DIE HARD2, that blockbuster sequel came out in theatres before FORD.

    Weird huh?

    And yes, I second Vern reviewing DEMOLITION MAN (decent fun) and HUDSON HAWK (no fun)

  22. caruso_stalker217

    May 24th, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    “Air bags! Can you fuckin’ believe it?”

    Come on. HUDSON HAWK is awesome.

  23. Renny Harlin is the master of great-looking cheesy action flicks. This movie should have been everybody’s first clue as to what the future held for him. I was a teenager when this came out and I didn’t see it until late night on cable one night as an adult. Your review pretty much sums it up for me. This movie is completely strange and weirdly watchable. Andrew Dice Clay has got to be the worst stand-up comic of all-time to actually have sold out concerts for about 2 straight years. Thank god people came to their senses!

  24. Yeah, that’s all well and good, but how does it measure up to Brainsmasher?

  25. I have never been able to finish this movie. It seems to be some Austin Powers type deal but trying way too hard to be offensive.

    This review is priceless though.I have not laughed so hard in weeks.

  26. Demolition Man holds up wonderfully. Watched it last night. Check out Snipes’ goofy MC Hammer pants at the beginning.

  27. Dennis Rodman’s rainbow hair period of life is directly attributable to Demolition Man.

  28. my girlfriend fuckin loves this movie. i still haven’t made it all the way through.
    but i guess i’ll give it another shot.

    and ya, Demolition Man is the Godfather of these types of movies.

  29. The saddest thing about growing up and meeting the Internet is having it tell me that I was wrong, that Howard The Duck is not one of the best films ever. You hurt me Internet.

  30. I think its interesting how one of the fake bands that Clay got free stuff from in FORD FAIRLANE was the same fake band that was the forefront in Walter Hill’s STREETS OF FIRE, which Joel Silver also produced.

    Vern – You should try to review STREETS sometime, that bizarre “more interesting as an idea than in execution” misfire of Hill’s. I mean what other movie you know of where Willem Dafoe wears rubber pants?

  31. I love Streets of Fire. If for nothing else, the songs are awesome. In fact, I usually play Nowhere Fast about three or four times before actually watching the rest of the movie.

    Eddie and The Cruisers would be the same, but it seems they spread the music throughout a bit more generously than they did in Streets of Fire. Streets of Fire had the song at the begining two at the end and One Big Stud somewhere in the middle. Eddie and The Cruisers was basically a musical.

    Also, I don’t know if you noticed, but at the begining of Street of Fire, whenever someone gets hit and falls down theres a drum roll…so there’s that.

  32. Vern, I can’t believe you didn’t mention (spoiler….?) that the Koala actually shows up alive at the end, wearing a neck brace and sipping a Pina Colada by a pool. Then Dice Clay brakes the fourth wall and actually looks at the camera and says, “What? You didn’t think we’d actually kill the f**ing Koala, did you?” Brilliant stuff. It’s a pretty terrible movie but I enjoyed it much in the same way that you did. I think your review is spot on.

  33. another play on sam spade movie

  34. Hey, Snapperhead! It’s the 20th anniversary of my movie, the one based on my original fuckin stories published in the LA Weekly and NY Rocker, for your information, (and available as a signed collection for sale on my website). If you liked the first flic, visit my new goddam website http://www.fordfairlanethesequel.com and vote for the sequel (or the koala bear dies)!
    Rex Weiner

  35. Seriously guys, mutants exist and Vern’s summoning ability is proof.

  36. Vern, I can’t wait for the next celebrity to pop up around here.

  37. holy Jesus! the creator of Ford himself appears! my mind is blown!

  38. Fucking classic movie. His stand up was awesome with his parody of nursery rhymes.

    So what’s your names, Neal and Bob or is that like what you do? OHHHHHHHHHHHHH

  39. Okay, I watched it last night and I really enjoyed it…but then I didn’t. It’s just weird, just like Vern said.
    What I disliked the most was, well, the hero. Not just because his weird speech pattern annoyed me, I also couldn’t figure out if this was a (pre-)Austin Powers type deal, where they created a character who was purposely as unsexy and uncool as possible and the joke was that everybody wanted (to be like) him anyway, or if this was really what passed as cool back then.
    But then there were all these wonderful weird touches, like pretty much everything with Lauren Holly (who was surprisingly cute back then!) during the last act. Starting with her getting thrown out of the window (after saying: “If one of you has kids, I hope his dog dies!”), right to the point where she gets saved by the now heroic sleazebag stalker from the beginning. And what about that seriously tasteless necrophilia joke at the funeral, that just when even I got offended by it turns out to have nothing to do with necrophilia!
    Not to mention the weird cast, with Priscilla Presley, Ed O’Neill, Robert Englund, Brendon Call, Wayne Newton and Gilbert Gottfried, who – I shit you not – made me laugh this time very hard!
    But then this movie has also lots of misses. Not every joke works (well, I should say “not every joke does not work”) and the story moves pretty slow forward.
    But it’s true. I don’t regret seeing this crazy ass movie and I wouldn’t be surprised if it will grow on me one day.

  40. Faraci seems to really believe Clay could be up for an Oscar for his work in BLUE JASMINE.

    http://badassdigest.com/2013/07/29/it-is-actually-possible-that-andrew-dice-clay-could-be-nominated-for-an-osc/

  41. First, a month before your review a certain writer above was mentioned here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123984558896723563.html
    Hey, he wrote for Miami Vice, and now he could be in a Harmony Korine sequel to Fairlaine.

    This movie really is odd. I think it could work as double feature (of European directors trying to figure out LA) with Earth Girls Are Easy. What if, going by silhouettes alone, Mickey Rourke had made this instead of Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man? Kurt Russell would have been the obvious action hero who could handle humor if the character had to be Elvish in nature.

  42. mcbride as fairlane? that’s some next level-type shit

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