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Auto Erotica On Film: 5 Great Wheeled Characters On The Big Screen

Twilight_Volvo_Contest Humans as actors? That's easy. Animals? Sure. We've all seen tons of anthropomorphicized critters wandering around the screen -- sometimes as foils to actorly-types as they stumble haphazardly around the screen; sometimes given voice and CGI facial movements so as to simulate human speech and character. But what of machinery? Not in humanoid terms... cyborgs and Terminators are too commonplace; too easy. What of films that transform machinery - in particular, transport - and lend them the space and importance and depth of import to impart with the status of being actual characters?

And let us be clear: there are many films in which cars play a clear and pivotal role onscreen. Sometimes this is a result of grotesquely transparent product placement (see: the abysmal Austin Powers films and his ubiquitous Shaguars). Sometimes it's a product of history and tradition (see: the proud return of Aston Martins to the cosmology of James Bond films). Sometimes it's a function of irony and humor (see: the DeLorean of Back to the Future or the "Cadillac of Minivans" - the Oldsmobile Silhouette, to be specific - from Get Shorty). But in the following five films, it's something that may have started from these humble beginnings... but which evolves, ultimately, into something more.

1. The Transporter
To witness the two Transporter films is to see something more than Jason Statham kicking the brains out of just about everyone he meets. It's to witness the rebirth of Audi as a broadly-recognizable premium automotive brand — and what's more, it's to witness the dawn of a new age in which a non-BMW becomes synonymous with aggressive strength and power. The plots of both films are similar: Statham plays a criminal, but a compelling one with a moral code all his own... for a price, he will drive anything and anyone anywhere. But there are certain boundaries he will not cross, and once he is pushed to his limits he will fight back with the two most powerful tools at his disposal. Tool number one is his own inveterate badassery... he's in truly sick great shape, with borderline British ninja-type skills and a very easy capacity for violence and brain-kicking. Tool number two is his car: the Audi A8 W12. Why the A8 W12? First off... All-Wheel Drive. Meaning all four wheels are adding traction and torque as the vehicle applies 450 hp — good God: 450 horsepower! — while it cuts through the Alps and leaps over and across and through all kinds of barriers and provides Statham with a slick, smooth, hypermuscular counterpart to his own slick, smooth, hypermuscularity. Is this product placement? Yes. But is it well-chosen, well-executed product placement? Yes, indeed it is.

2. The Italian Job
Of course, you can't say "Jason Statham" and "well-selected automotive product placement" without mentioning The Italian Job — the stylish, fast-paced and fun heist caper featuring Mark Wahlberg, Donald Sutherland, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham and a buttload of Mini Coopers, which make off with some gold, drive around like crazy, and generally take your mind off the fact that while the plotline meanders in and out of plausibility, you're thinking to yourself throughout: man, these cars are cool. And keep in mind... when this film was released in 2003, the Minis were still a relatively exotic phenomena. This film gave them mass exposure, and opened the world's eyes to the possibilities of a small car that didn't suck like small cars so often do. A small car that could be stylish and quick and smart and nimble, much in the style of the Wahlbergian criminal masterminds who steered them through multiple dynamic chase scenes.

3. Nick & Norah's Ultimate Playlist
Of course, part of the reason the Mini was such a revelation was because of the sad and often troubled history of previous tiny vehicles — including the justifiably reviled Yugo. Quite possibly the worst production car available in the United States in the past 30 years, the Yugo was an elaborate practical joke of a machine... which makes its presence in the surprisingly charming Nick & Norah's Ultimate Playlist that much more unexpected and welcome. The film itself, on the off-chance you haven't seen it yet, is a romantic comedy that follows the titular (and Thin Man-homage named) characters across a single night in New York, as they circle each other, fight, banter, experience strange adventures, and ultimately come together in a manner that is both cute and believable, which is always a rare and wonderful thing to achieve in a romantic comedy. The Nick of the film is played by Michael Cera in his trademarked Michael Cera-is-a-lovable-dork style, and as such it's odd but not entirely out of character that he should spend a chunk of the film driving his appropriately dorky-but-lovable car. A Yugo. A vehicle so hopelessly uncool and doomed and worthy of mockery that it actually goes around the bend of being a mockery-worthy set piece to becoming a character in and of itself: a reflection of Michael Cera's character, and like Nick himself something that you end up feeling unexpected warm fuzzies for by the time it's all said and done.

4. TwilightHistory_of_violence
Speaking of cars appropriate to their owner... let us speak now of whiny sparkly emo-vamps who prefer the Morrissey route of self-adoringly miserable abstinence and deprivation over the hot, messy, destructive passion that has defined vampirism in every fictional format for 150 years. Especially those with absurdly goofy proto-Eraserhead hair. And what do these craptastic excuses for creatures of the night choose to drive in those moments when their animal instincts can and should take over and they need to express their speed, their power, their stealth and their inveterate sense of mystery? Oh, right... a Volvo C30. A fucking hatchback. Way to go, Twilight product placement dudes! It doesn't get much more sexy than a fucking hatchback. Nor much more intimidating and testosterone-fueled when he swoops in out of nowhere to save his virginal object of desire from the danger of other predators in... oh, right. STILL a fucking Volvo hatchback. My wife and I - who up until that point in the movie were mostly bored silly - actively burst out into laughter when the überVolvo came out of nowhere to save whatshername and all the badasses threatening her suddenly jumped back, as if to say, "Hey, man... no WAY am I messing with a dude who drives a Volvo hatchback."

5. A History of Violence
On the other hand... if you want to see a vehicle that appropriately expresses the sense of quiet power and menace of its owner, look no further than David Cronenberg's extraordinary A History of Violence, in which some very bad men - including Ed Harris, a very, very, very bad man - roll into a tiny midwestern town to menace Viggo Mortensen... and do so in an extremely sinister-looking Chrysler 300C. The effect is 100% effective and appropriate: into this bucolic community of families and farms and gently rusting pickup trucks the Chrysler swims in, a great white finding its way into a sheltered cove: jet black, huge chrome grill shining like teeth, high, narrow slit windows like wraparound shades, the definition of urban menace arriving in this least urbane of settings. It is a vehicle that speaks of threat; of veiled power, and violent intent within waiting to be unleashed. Which, given the way the story unfolds, is absolutely apt and perfect.


. . . . .
TwoBusy wants you to get out of his dreams and into his car.






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Comments

Jennie

This reminds me of Veronica Mars and how her Lebaron was practically a character on the show the first season.

Bec

!!!!!

What about Duel?? Early Spielberg and the reason I STILL cringe when I drive past a big tanker truck

Also, yes. The Volvo in Twilight cracked me the hell up!

Jessi

Do you watch Supernatural? Oh, how I am in love with the Impala. So sexy.

TwoBusy

@Jennie @Jessi Here's where I feel stupid, because... uh... I never saw either show. (ducking)

@Bec OUTSTANDING call. I wasn't thinking that far back movie-wise, but you are 100% correct... the truck from Duel is EXACTLY what I was trying to get at. Terrific point.

Muirnait

There are some better cars in Twilight later, though, i think?




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