Essay: ‘Moving Violations’

Moving Violations
Rated
: PG-13
Starring: John Murray as Dana Cannon
               Jennifer Tilly as Amy Hopkins
               James Keach as Deputy Halik
               Wendie Jo Sperber as Joan Pudillo
               Dedee Pfeiffer as Cissy

Directed by: Neal Isreal

Written by: Pat Proft and Neal Isreal

Tagline: “A crash course in traffic school from the creators of ‘Police Academy.’
By Rob Rector
Perhaps it was one of nepotisms finest cinematic moments (yes, this includes the little-seen 1993 direct-to-video brethern-of-movie-star classic Death Ring, whose cover featured the names SWAYZE, NORRIS and McQUEEN in large all caps — only to be preceded by the 7-point revealing the names Don, Mike and Chad, respectively). The film ‘Moving Violations’ featured no fewer than four sibs to the stars. John Murray, little brother of Bill, Jennifer Tilly, lil’ sis of Meg, James Keach, young bro of Stacy and Dedee Pfeiffer, the younger sister of Michelle, were all accounted for in the cast of this quickly produced little slice of quintessential 80s-ness that followed the prototypical format of ragtag losers (traffic offenders) taking on strict authoritarians (traffic cops) in a film that was created by a team that was no stranger to the format, as they produced both ‘Bachelor Party’ and ‘Police Academy.’
Pre-screening memories: To ease the transition, they even gave John the occupation of a groundskeeper, perhaps one of Murray’s most iconic roles ( OK, so technically, he was a landscaper, but isn’t that just splitting hairs?).
Memories of this film were based solely on Murray’s character, Dana Cannon. I remember often pilfering witty rejoinders from the character and trying to emulate his easygoing, sarcastic demeanor in the face of authority (funny how that rarely seems as charming in real life…). You see, it was much easier to lift lines from lesser-known films and pass them off as your own, than, say something more universally known as “Ghostbusters,” where the response would most likely be, “Ha ha, very funny, Dr. Venkman.” But I imagined myself looking suave with a cock-eyed grin when getting yelled at and having the perfect retort to diffuse a situation and win the adoration of many as a result. Only now does it occur to me that there are very few historical instances of wise-cracking landscapers who’ve reached national prominence.
There really was little else to recall of the film. The only other supporting characters who had any discernable impact on me since those multiple screenings more than two decades ago were a fellow traffic offender who saw one too many horror films (my hero!) and that chubby gal from ‘Bosom Buddies’ who held the key to Buffy and Hildegard’s true identity — Wendie Jo Sperber.
So, I am once again ready to take a possible wrong turn down Memory Lane and revisit this little speed bump of a film that had remained part of my consciousness, Moving Violations.’

 

 

Post-Screening: I honestly wonder if at some point the producers just threw up their arms and said, “You know what? F***k it, let’s just produce a PG-13 Animal House.” I have witnessed many a variation of the iconic film, but have yet to see whole chunks lifted so cavalierly as they had in Moving Violations (and this is from a connoisseur of crap comedy who has viewed such era films as Screwballs, King Frat, Mad Magazine’s Up the Academy, The Hollywood Knights, and the short-lived Animal House spinoff sitcom Delta House).
Shall we put the evidence on Lady Justice’s scales, shall we?

  1. A Dean Wormer-esque authority figure (played by James Keach as a traffic cop) who despises a lowly group of misfits, led by a slovenly good-time Belushi-like guy (played by Murray)
  2. A ” When the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor” rallying cry from said good-time guy.
  3. A incident involving the bedding of a girl who admits she’s underage pre-coitus (though no tissues were used to stuff the bra).
  4. A sexually aggressive female authority figure, though this time its Sally Kellerman as a judge who stands in for Dean Wormer’s cucumber-comparing wife.
  5. A finale that features a downtown parade that erupts into calamity and confusion.
  6. A float being commandeered by our heroes and driven at high rates of speed.
  7. A beauty queen atop of said float in said parade who dutifully stays put and waves to the crowds.
  8. A “where are they now” blurb at the end credits on the fate of our protagonist landscaper.

I’m sure a more trained eye could pick up more, but at this point I felt I had spent way to much time in my CSI-like analysis on it.

Some other items I did glean from the viewing include:

  • A blink-and-you-missed-it cameo from one Don Cheadle as a fast food employee. (His only line was “Can I take your order?” repeated a handful of times.)
  • The film boasted the name of Clara Peller in the opening credits, better known as the “Where’s the Beef?” lady from the 80s Wendy’s commercials. (Are you really sure that’s a hook you want to hang your film on? That’s like saying, “Special appearance by The Noid,” or “Featuring the comedic stylings of the “Dude you got a Dell” guy.)
  • James Keach is actually the more charismatic lead in the film as the psychotic motorcycle cop whose slow seething turns into violent rage. Though by the film’s conclusion he’s reduced to parading around in a dog collar and leather undies — best not to ask.
  • The horror-film afficionado was actually more amusing than I remembered, especially when he was stoked to see one of those gore-soaked “instructional films” titled “Blood Runs Red on the Highway.” I remember being shown such a PSA (similar to this one) in grade school in which a log carrier accidentally unloads its cargo at a high rate of speed through the windshield of an unsuspecting reckless driver. Yes, in grade school. Is it any wonder I turned out worshipping the works of gory effects masters such as Rob Bottin, Rick Baker and Stan Winston?

New Memories: I admit to still getting a few chuckles from this film made on the fly (it was written in a month and shot and released within six). When a girl says, “My ride’s here, it’s my sister…” and a nun pulls up in a Chrystler is classic stuff and what’s not funny about a lowly puppeteer being abused by the same kiddie audience he’s trying to entertain?). And this scene is quite cute:

 

It cannot be forgiven, though, that they cast the go-to guy for stiff-shirt comedy, Mr. Fred Willard, and fail to use him for his true potential. But what truly amazes me is that I ever found John Murray’s performance to be notable for his wit or charm. And I am thankful that I did not follow my admiration of his role to more extreme lengths, as I am pretty sure I’d make a lousy landscaper.

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