THE ADVENTURES OF FORD FAIRLANE is a star vehicle for controversial stand-up comedian Andrew Dice Clay, who has risen to fame by adopting a vulgar, homophobic, misogynistic persona--a parody of a Brooklyn Italian ladies' man--and by employing shockingly crude stage methods that appeal to
his mostly teenage audience. His humor may not be everyone's cup of tea (indeed, Clay has been banned from MTV, and his appearance as the guest host of "Saturday Night Live" prompted cast member Nora Dunn and musical guest Sinead O'Connor to boycott the show), but it is effective in a base way. In
responding negatively to Clay's brand of humor, however, most observers have failed to recognize that the comedian is playing a character--an extremely exaggerated parody that could not possibly be taken seriously. The misogynistic attitude and crude language Clay employs are completely
over-the-top, and therein lies the humor. Much more disturbing are the attitude and persona adopted by Eddie Murphy, who matches Clay's crudeness with regularity and seems to be sincere in his hatred for women and contempt for homosexuals. Since Clay's audience isn't particularly demanding,
adapting his stage persona for the screen wouldn't seem to be a difficult undertaking (just place Clay in the middle of a film with a minimal plot and plenty of women and let him go to town), yet one of the pleasures of FORD FAIRLANE is the surprising amount of care that has gone into its making.
Exceptionally well put together by the prodigiously talented Renny Harlin (who also directed DIE HARD 2), and performed and written with style, FORD FAIRLANE is better than it had to be, and it also works as a perfect vehicle for Clay.
A "rock 'n' roll detective," Ford Fairlane (Clay) solves crimes that affect the movers and shakers of the LA music scene. When he's not chasing down perverts obsessed with female rock bands, he's sleeping with as many women as possible. However, Ford's reputation as a rock 'n' roll detective
doesn't sit well with him, and he's anything but fond of the adoring teenager (Brandon Call) who hangs out in front of his beach house emulating his every move. Of late, Ford's private detective agency has been faltering: his secretary and former lover, Jazz (Lauren Holly), is unsatisfied with her
job and with Ford's treatment of her, his case load is dwindling, and, worst of all, Ford's musician clients pay him in drumsticks and guitar picks instead of money (at one point, Jazz protests that Milli Vanilli have settled their account with a year's supply of bicycle shorts). Nonetheless,
Ford's latest case may prove to be his most exciting. After heavy-metal superstar Bobby Black (Vince Neil of the real-life heavy-metal band Motley Crue) is murdered and Ford's old buddy Johnny Crunch (Gilbert Gottfried) is electrocuted, the detective is hired by the mysterious Colleen Sutton
(Priscilla Presley) to find a missing girl, Zuzu Petals (Maddie Corman). Although he is initially reluctant, Ford takes the case, convinced that these dramatic events are somehow connected. The clues lead him from the garden parties of rich executives to the bizarre funeral of Bobby Black--where
Ford finds Zuzu--and, eventually, to powerful record executive Julian Grendel (Wayne Newton, in a funny turn). Naturally, Ford unlocks the mystery, which involves stolen money, secret stocks, and three coded compact discs that contain all of the answers to the murders. The film climaxes at a
concert where the detective confronts Grendel (who, not very surprisingly, is behind everything) and sets him on fire. In the end, Ford changes his ways and decides to settle down with Jazz and to take responsibility for his teenage buddy.
Strikingly similar to DICK TRACY (all the way down to its "adopted family" ending), FORD FAIRLANE plays as a sort of adult comic book. Based on a character created over 10 years ago by Rex Weiner for a monthly serial that appeared in New York Rocker and the LA Weekly, the film is essentially a
dated detective spoof. The goofy voiceover narration and comic handling of private-eye cliches have been done before, but what sets this film apart from other detective parodies is its attitude. Part star vehicle, part nasty satire, FORD FAIRLANE is a truly schizophrenic film that makes the most
of its dual personality. No doubt Clay's participation has much to do with the film's down-and-dirty tone (the nasty portrayal of women and overabundance of foul language are certainly the result of his influence), but the hand of Daniel Waters (HEATHERS), who rewrote James Cappe and David
Arnott's original script, is also very much in evidence. Waters' ugly, cynical portrait of LA is the single strongest element of the film. The LA depicted here is populated only by wanton women, empty-headed groupies, greedy power brokers, idiot musicians, and sadistic barbarians (played, in quick
cameos, by a swarm of well-known pop icons, including Ed O'Neill of "Married with Children," Robert "Freddy Krueger" Englund, MTV stars Kurt Loder and Kari Wuhrer, and musicians Tone-Loc, Morris Day, and Shelia E.). That Andrew Dice Clay is the hero of the film says even more about the morality on
display here. Unfortunately, this searing satire of the music business and potent commentary on LA nightlife is marred somewhat by the necessity of adapting Clay's persona for the screen. Tellingly, the film is least successful in the incongruous scenes that attempt to incorporate bits from Clay's
stage act into the story.
In the hands of a less assured director, the film's split personality might have been its undoing, but with Harlin behind the camera, the film remains cohesive, sharp, and very funny. Harlin (who reportedly left most of the editing to his crew so he could move on to DIE HARD 2) has once again
proven himself to be one of the finest visual stylists in Hollywood. FORD FAIRLANE is only Harlin's fifth film, but he has already defined a style of his own, and his use of the camera is amazingly assured. Full of rich nighttime images and wonderfully lit interiors (shot by DIE HARD 2's
cinematographer Oliver Wood), FORD FAIRLANE is a treat for the eyes. Even Clay is photogenic in this movie. The pacing is quick, and the comic-booklike transitions work nicely, but as Harlin proved with DIE HARD 2, his strongest talent is his handling of action sequences. The two best scenes in
FORD FAIRLANE are action-oriented. The first is an extended car chase through a graveyard (chock full of necrophilia jokes and rolling corpses), and the second is an outstanding sequence that takes place on the Capitol Records Tower. High above the ground, Ford and Zuzu are pursued down the side
of the tower by a group of thugs whom Ford must fight off while trying not to fall. The sequence, which ends with Ford, Zuzu, and the rest of the gang plummeting from the building, involves impressive stunts and imaginative scuffles, and it's all shot in grand style. Harlin utilizes dizzying
close-ups of his actors and displays his usual sharp editing style, and the result is a scene that is both deliriously funny and exciting.
FORD FAIRLANE is far from perfect. Long stretches are simply not funny; the misogynistic attitude starts to wear thin after a while; Presley and Englund are terrible; and the plot doesn't really amount to a hill of beans. But there is enough good stuff in the film to make it worth a look. Harlin's
direction alone is worth the price of admission, and if you're a Clay fan, you won't be disappointed. Of course, there is something in this movie to offend just about anyone. However, the screenplay does play it safe by eventually backing away from every single "taboo" it almost breaks: the corpse
Clay jokes about having sex with turns out to be a living woman; a cute Koala bear is found dead, strung up by his neck, only to be brought back later wearing a neck brace. Trying to be both "bad" and "good," the screenplay definitely wants to have its cake and eat it too. THE ADVENTURES OF FORD
FAIRLANE is an exceptionally well-made film that is everything you could ever want in an Andrew Dice Clay movie; it's vulgar, tasteless, nasty, cynical, and, at times, very funny. (Excessive profanity, adult situations, brief nudity, violence.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1990
- Rating: R
- Review: THE ADVENTURES OF FORD FAIRLANE is a star vehicle for controversial stand-up comedian Andrew Dice Clay, who has risen to fame by adopting a vulgar, homophobic, misogynistic persona--a parody of a Brooklyn Italian ladies' man--and by employing shockingly cr… (more)