Funny how our tastes change. When I saw Clint Eastwood’s “Pink Cadillac” back in 1989 when it came out, I thought it was the bee’s knees (huge Clint fan here). I thought it was exceptionally hilarious.
My main memory was of Clint in a gold lamé suit and pencil moustache, with his hair slicked back, saying lines like: “Well I can dig it.” I mean, the very concept alone sounds fun, does it not? And that particular bit is pretty fun, upon rewinding. It’s also got the memorable line, “Never mess with a man’s vehicles.”
It’s got the type of romantic imagery that resonates with Americans. Case in point: the actual pink Cadillac, of the vintage, pre-1970’s years; they are things of great beauty. We must pay homage to them. And we do: Elvis drove a pink Cadillac, Aretha Franklin sang a song about a pink Cadillac, Clint made a movie called “Pink Cadillac,” and Jason Momoa made a motorcycle movie where he meets a beautiful woman who drives a pink Cadillac. So there’s that.
There’s a bunch of other stuff in there that goes well with pink Cadillacs, “Thelma and Louise” type stuff, like tumbleweeds, dusty highways, and Ry Cooder-ish musical musings. It’s in this setting that Clint plays Tom Nowak, skip-tracer. And you know we Americans love our skip-tracers, bounty hunters, and tales of runnin’ from the law.
What Goes On
This is a mid-career Eastwood action-comedy, directed by his long-time-collaborator Buddy van Horn (who also directed the Clint-acts-with-an-orangutan comedy “Any Which Way You Can”).
Tom the free-lancing skip-tracer works for Buddy (Gerry Bamman), a bail bondsman, in Sacramento, California. Tom’s schtick is befuddling his prey by using disguises and speaking in accents. He variously pretends to be a rodeo clown, a cop, a fake radio-prize game host, and the owner of a Reno casino.
Tom gets wheedled by boss Buddy into tracking down one Lou Ann McGuinn (Broadway musical star Bernadette Peters), who skipped bail when she inadvertently got caught up in her loser-husband Roy’s (Timothy Carhart) counterfeit money scheme.
Lou Ann goes on the lam, baby in tow, to visit her sister (Frances Fisher) in Reno, absconding with Roy’s ’59 pink Cadillac that’s parked in front of her trailer park home. She also inadvertently absconds with a big bag of bills stuffed behind the convertible hood. When the wind starts blowing dollars all over the highway like confetti, she thinks it’s $250,000 counterfeit, but it’s in fact a quarter of a million bona fide buckaroonies belonging to Birthright, the white supremacist group Roy’s a bro of.
Birthright is of course immediately on her trail for taking the money and running and maybe telling on them too. Tom spots her pink Caddy in front of a Reno casino, but before you can blink an eye, the ordinarily very professional Tom’s in love and trying to help Lou Ann’s cause, clear her name, and get all that cash to the DA. Very convincing.
But when they get to her sister’s house to pick up the baby, Roy and his crystal meth-head buddy Waycross (John Dennis Johnston) throw a monkey-wrench into the proceedings and take the baby.
Cut to the chase—the baby ends up in supremacist stronghold in the Sierra Madres, overseen by cult leader Alex (Michael Des Barre)—and the Birthright hold the baby hostage. Will Tom prevail against the odds? Will Lou Ann get her baby back? Will Tom and Lou Ann make a nice couple?
Skip This Skip-Tracing
You want a good skip-tracer movie? Watch “Midnight Run.” “Pink Cadillac’s” silly antics might have worked in a sillier movie like “Rango,” but its supremacist subplot is too heavy-handed and ponderous a topic for this fluff and only serves to weigh the proceedings down.
Also out of place is Clint attempting to play the opposite role that he usually plays in the classic clown-straight man dichotomy. Eastwood is one of the best straight men in the business. He’s at his funniest when he’s stone-faced, quietly apoplectic, and deadly serious.
The thing about playing the clown is you have to have a preternatural ton of extrovert energy, like a Molly Shannon, a Robin Williams, or a Jim Carrey. It’s a talent unto itself, that kind of energy. Speaking of Jim Carrey, the then unknown Carrey has a cameo in “Pink Cadillac,” playing what looks to be a bit about Elvis—if Elvis had been born a Thalidomide baby. Or maybe it’s a Thalidomide guy doing an Elvis impression. Thaaat’s … not funny. That’s just bad taste on Jim’s part and Clint’s for putting it in the movie (to be fair, it’s probably guilty-pleasure-hysterical seeing Carrey do it in-person). But as mentioned, white supremacy is not generally chock full of joke material either, so it’s odd as a choice for a little lighthearted action-comedy.
Anyway, certain actors are not cut out to do certain actor-y things, and at this point in his career, Eastwood apparently still wasn’t yet entirely clear about his range; didn’t maybe realize yet that a role that calls for frenetic energy and, say, speaking with a lisp, was not the best use of his taciturn talents. Straight men who try the clown role know subconsciously that they’re out of their element, trying to gin up that excess energy, and there’s a certain self-consciousness that leaks. Life is better when Clint is mean and manly. But speaking of bad acting, the entire movie is rife with it, to the point where you wonder if Gerry Bamman ever acted in his life. I swear I’ve seen him be good in something but I can’t recall what it was now.
What else? Bernadette Peters is very cute. Verrrry cute. Yup. She’s obviously absolutely killer on a Broadway stage. Here, not so much, but she might be the best thing about the movie. But basically, this is one of Clint Eastwood’s lesser … vehicles. I’d recommend you don’t mess with it.
Director: Buddy Van Horn
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bernadette Peters, Timothy Carhart, John Dennis Johnston, Michael Des Barres, Gerry Bamman, Frances Fisher
Running Time: 2 hours, 2 minutes
Release Date: May 26, 1989
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars
Mark Jackson is the senior film critic for The Epoch Times. Mark has 20 years’ experience as a professional New York actor, classical theater training, and a BA in philosophy. He recently narrated the Epoch Times audiobook “How the Specter of Communism is Ruling Our World,” and has a Rotten Tomatoes author page.