Car Dogs (2017)
Release Date: March 24th, 2017 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Adam Collis Actors: Patrick J. Adams, Chris Mulkey, Dash Mihok, Cory Hardrict, Josh Hopkins, Joe Massingill, George Lopez, Nia Vardalos, Octavia Spencer, Alessandra Torresani
ark Chamberlain (Patrick J. Adams) manages Chamberlain Auto, a standard dealership in Phoenix, Arizona, owned by Mark’s stern father, Malcolm (Chris Mulkey). Though the showroom looks nice and a new store is lined up for financing, Malcolm misses no opportunities to berate his son and show disgust even at his accomplishments. Additionally, Mark’s wife Ashley (Stefanie Butler) has had about enough of his prioritization of his job over their relationship, especially after he blows off an anniversary reservation.
Mark’s situation grows more draining when Malcolm insists that if he doesn’t reach a sales target of 300 cars by 5:00 PM, he won’t be allowed to helm the new dealership. With the location’s current record, they’ll need to offload another 35 cars in a mere eight hours. And that won’t be an easy task, especially since the staff consists of some thoroughly reprehensible people, including Mike Reynolds (Josh Hopkins), who is one of the meanest of the bunch, going out of his way to offend and infuriate; Boyd (Cory Hardrict), who talks a tough game and isn’t afraid to throw punches; Christian (George Lopez), who doesn’t seem to possess genuine human emotions; and Sharon (Nia Vardalos), who can sling revilements and minor cons with the best of them, yet for some unexplained reason, worries about Mark’s wellbeing. Meanwhile, Tyler “Green Pea” (Joe Massingill) tries to learn the ropes on his first day, but no one really wants to give him the attention necessary for him to succeed. And Scott (Dash Mihok), despite having worked faithfully for over 20 years at Chamberlain’s, is just plain incompetent, perhaps aggravated by overlong shifts and general stress and a baby on the way – but that won’t stop Malcolm from callously firing him before the day is through.
The sales goals are quite trying for a staff of serious fellows who are motivated solely by money and fear over not getting their scheduled paychecks. This isn’t unusual; but the workplace is uncomfortably hostile, with brawls that break out spontaneously, expletive-ridden insults exchanged at a breakneck pace, and mean-spirited pranks that confuse and rattle employees. Coworkers aren’t simply coworkers; it’s as if they’re all survivors fighting against one another for the last scrap of food aboard a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean. It’s not just a cutthroat environment; it’s the most abusive, deceptive, brutally competitive aggregation of disgruntled, bitter humans ever assembled.
It’s a difficult thing to make a film in which all the main characters are car salesmen – one of the most stereotypically disliked professions on the planet. And when the film reveals some tricks of the trade (some dirtier than others), or shows employees jabbering over ways to swindle customers, or demonstrates pervasive eavesdropping on private conversations to get the upper hand on negotiations, or has Christian proclaim that the number one rule of peddling cars is that “buyers are liars,” it doesn’t make the business look any better. Even when a comic relief moment arises, in which bets are placed on whether or not Christian can “trunk” a customer – by getting them to literally crawl into the trunk as a demonstration of its roominess – it’s not as funny as it is humiliating. With the writer’s actual experience in the industry, “Car Dogs” may exhibit authenticity – but it doesn’t translate into entertainment. Additionally, the 300-car objective isn’t played for suspense or laughs or something that requires an extreme exertion of effort – rather, it’s just another series of routines and a statistic (especially considering that they only truly have to sell 35 cars – a feat that, though daunting, doesn’t sound nearly as impressive as 300).
The technical aspects are acceptable, though the filmmakers don’t attempt anything beyond the norm (enthusiastic music plays over speedy montages; scenes are scrubbed through in reverse as if rewinding throughout the day; and an interview-style opening shot is conducted like NBC’s “The Office” but without the sarcasm). The acting, too, is more than adequate, even without the boost of a few bigger-name celebrities in brief roles. But the dialogue never steps outside of the realm of entirely ordinary, and the story is dreadfully average. A character in a hard-hearted occupation, learning lessons about friends and family and betrayal and relentless self-interest isn’t terribly amusing, especially when his taking of the righteous route becomes an endeavor far too little and too late for an irredeemably pathetic protagonist.
– Mike Massie