Review: The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (1990)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #703

Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: July 11, 1990
Sub-Genre: Action/Comedy
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $40,000,000
Box Office: $21,400,000
Running Time: 102 minutes
Director: Renny Harlin
Producers: Steve Perry, Joel Silver
Screenplay: Daniel Waters, David Arnott, James Cappe
Based on characters by Rex Weiner
Cinematography: Oliver Wood
Score: Yello
Editing: Michael Tronick
Studio: Silver Pictures
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Stars: Andrew Dice Clay, Wayne Newton, Priscilla Presley, Lauren Holly, Gilbert Gottfried, Maddie Corman, David Patrick Kelly, Morris Day, Robert Englund, Ed O’Neill, Brandon Call, Vince Neil, Sheila E., Lala, Kari Wuhrer, Tone Lōc

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Bobby Darin “Don’t Rain On My Parade”

[2] Yello “Unbelievable”

[3] Andrew Dice Clay “I Ain’t Got You”

[4] Mötley Crüe “Rock ‘N’ Roll Junkie”

I never much cared for being one of the sheep. Indeed, if someone tells me not to watch a movie as it’s unadulterated garbage, then chances are, I’ll be soaking that shit up like a touchy-feely tampon the very moment their back is turned and trying my double darndest to love every second of it. It’s not that I don’t respect the opinions of others, more that I’ve got my own and flat refuse to compromise that to keep up with the Joneses. Film is as subjective a media as they come and what’s good for the goose won’t necessarily suit the gander. Some of the most enjoyable times I’ve spent gawking at the silver screen have been with unmentionables that apparently have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. My case in point is this: a trio of big-budget flops from around the turn of the nineties which barely shared a kind word between them.

The first is Bruce A. Evans’ Kuffs, a woefully received but massively enjoyable rip-off of Martin Brest’s Beverly Hills Cop that switched leading man Eddie Murphy for Christian Slater; the second is Simon Wincer’s Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, a tasty two-wheeled treat that ingeniously paired Mickey Rourke with Don Johnson and was accused of reinforcing the “male biker” stereotype; and bringing up the rear is my personal darling of the three. Renny Harlin’s The Adventures of Ford Fairlane was promptly savaged by the media, who cited it as vulgar, sexist claptrap and an absolute insult to the film industry. Was it guilty of being vulgar and sexist? Of course it was. Did that matter a solitary jot? Hell no it didn’t, if anything, this made it all the more flavorsome. Before you go yelling “he’s a closet misogynist, GET HIM!”, I don’t endorse any of the views stated in this movie for one second. But neither is it my job to sit atop a pedestal and pass judgement, which is where so many so-called critics come a cropper.

Admit to liking Harlin’s movie and you’ll likely be banished from society and forced to watch Beaches on perpetual loop until such time as you see the error of your ways. The chief reason for this is the film’s leading man, Andrew Dice Clay, or “The Diceman” as he became better known on the stand-up comedy circuit during the late eighties. Clay was an acquired taste to say the very least and, while he was the first comedian to sell out Madison Square Garden two nights in a row, he also managed to earn a lifetime ban from MTV for reciting adult nursery rhymes during his turn at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards. However, when not shocking and appalling audiences with his risqué routines, he also found time to cut his teeth on acting gigs. A walk on gig for Howard Deutch’s Pretty in Pink was followed by a more significant role in Geneviève Robert’s Casual Sex? and love him or loathe him (ordinarily the latter), there was no denying “The Diceman” had natural screen presence.

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane was his first (and regrettably only) starring vehicle and earned him a shot at working with one of the hottest properties doing the rounds at the time, Renny Harlin. The Finnish filmmaker was on something of a hot streak at the time, having churned out Prison, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master and Die Hard 2 in a flush three-year period and it appeared this may provide Clay his one big shot at crossover success. In fact, it struggled to recoup even half of its extortionate $40 million budget and had to suffer the indignity of sharing the 1990 Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Picture with John Derek’s Ghosts Can’t Do It. Meanwhile, Clay continued to be one of the most hated men in America and Harlin’s film was forgotten before you could say “un-fucking-believable”.

You wanna know what the crazy thing is? I’m not altogether sure there’s a more quotable character in motion picture history than Ford Fairlane and I had learned the entire screenplay from stem to stern by around the umpteenth time of viewing this glorious little movie during my clearly wasted youth. To be fair, the screenplay may as well have been written by gibbons for all its intelligence and primarily consisted of ream upon ream of dick jokes, seasoned with a few sprinkles of shameless chauvinism and enough misguided male ego to have feminists tearing up their ticket stubs while screaming “burn the witch for he is pure evil”. If you’re looking for a politically correct way to while away 102 minutes, then may I suggest providing The Adventures of Ford Fairlane the widest berth imaginable. For all those remaining, buckle in buckos as it’s gonna be one helluva ride.

At any rate, I guess there would be no better time than the present to catch up with our “Rock n’ Roll Detective” himself, named after the 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner he uses to slam barely legal babes in all manner of uncomfortable positions. His beat is the L.A. music industry, and when lead singer of metal band The Black Plague, Bobby Black (Vince Neil), drops stone cold dead during one of his stage performances, there’s only one toll-free number in town worth hitting up: 1-800-UNBELIEVABLE. Ford doesn’t work alone and his partner Stanley usually wakes up a full half-hour before he does. For the record, Stanley is the affectionate name he has donated to his Johnson. You know, like the power drill. Don’t even ask.

“Come on, down boy. Down Stanley. Roseanne Barr naked. Gone.”

Believe it or not (and I appreciate this may be a stretch), Ford has a couple of close friends who see no harm or foul in associating with him. First up is The Kid (Brandon Call), kind of like a Mini-Ford in training and on the verge of growing his very first pubic hair. He mimics Fairlane’s every mannerism, smokes when he should really be chewing gum, and isn’t afraid to call his mentor out for being “a real dick” when a reality check is in order.

Second is potty-mouthed radio shock-jock Johnny Crunch (Gilbert Gottfried), a man who somehow makes a living out of the same mouth he’d use to go down on your mother given a quarter of a chance. However, Johnny’s currently all about the business as he wishes to track down a recently vanishing teenage groupie by the name of Zuzu Petals (Maddie Corman), who may or may not be connected to Black’s death. Naturally, he takes the case as he is the “Rock n’ Roll Detective” after all and has a rock-bottom reputation to uphold.

With leads at a bare minimum and his long-suffering assistant Jazz (Lauren Holly) starting to seriously question her career choice, Ford’s balls are in a bunch and he could really do with a sign from the heaven right about now. And what does he get? Desperately incompetent flatfoot and former fumbling disco star, Lt. Amos (Ed O’Neill) snapping at his heels like a chihuahua on meth, that’s what. If there’s one thing that makes Amos’s dick and balls itch even more than the premature death of his beloved D.I.S.C.O., then it would be some jumped up slab of spam sniffing around official police business and he makes it crystal clear that he’ll be there the very second his competition slips on a cunningly placed banana skin.

Then there’s ruthless record executive, Julian Grendel (Wayne Newton), who Ford just knows is up to no good but hasn’t the faintest idea how to make the charges stick. Apparently there are three CDs which, when played simultaneously, detail all of his shady dealings but, while he knows the whereabouts of one, the elusive Zuzu Petals is said to possess the second, and the third could be in fucking Michigan for all he knows. To top it all off, some snidey snapper head has lynched his pet koala in cold blood but that’s another story for another day entirely. On the plus side, at least shit couldn’t get any more messed up right?

Could it fuck! Just in case were finding this intrigue all too much to take on board, there’s a star-studded supporting cast on hand to help spread the workload. We’re talking Robert Englund in wonderfully maniacal form, David Patrick Kelly doing his very best impression of a drooling deviant, Priscilla Presley seemingly reprising her role from The Naked Gun movies and musical maestros Sheila E., Morris Day and Tone Lōc to help sweeten the deal. Ultimately however, it’s The Diceman we’ve come to see and there’s no way he’s about to share the limelight.

So here’s the thing. The plot to The Adventures of Ford Fairlane is little more than a crafty clothesline for 102 minutes of The Dice Man’s harebrained horseplay and the whole schtick about the corrupt music industry’s penchant for valuing commerce over music is little more than a saucy smokescreen. Harlin’s movie is all about Andrew Dice Clay right down to his greasy follicles and the actor actually comes more than good on his oath to shine. Admittedly, many of the gags fall horrendously flat, as do most of his one-liners and put-downs, but it’s Clay’s spotless comic timing and supreme physical posture that we should be paying attention to. For as much testosterone as he exudes by default, he’s also not averse to self-effacing and many of the biggest laughs ironically come at his sole expense.

Okay so I guess it’s time for that all-important nitty-gritty. How does one even begin to rate a film which could easily have been conceived by a twelve-year-old on one hand, but manages to consistently entertain from start to finish on the other? That’s simple, should you violently disapprove with the score I award The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, then I would suggest getting your own damn blog as I have a duty to myself to tell the facts as I see them and, from where I’m sat, Harlin’s film is all that and a bag of chips besides, albeit soggy from all the man sweat.

It may not be big (just the kind of colossal that a $40 million budget affords is all); it may not be particularly clever either (I.Q. points will be surrendered); and it sure as shit ain’t P.C. (you ever copped a feel of a fresh stiff in a fast-moving hearse?); but it is un-fucking believable if you approach it with a smile as opposed to a scowl. And just to be clear as no doubt Clay would get the rap for this, no koalas were harmed during the filming of this movie. He may be an asshole, but he’s not a fucking asshole. Here’s to you Dice Man… SUCKING MY DICK! He’ll know what I mean.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Read Prison Appraisal
Read A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master Appraisal
Read Deep Blue Sea Appraisal
Read Pretty in Pink Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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