Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Movies I Grew Up With: D.C. Cab

Yes, boys and girls, there was a time in my life when I was very easily amused and the presence of Mr. T made something a must-see. Seriously.

One of the shows I used to watch as a kid was something called "Games People Play." This is the program that introduced me and millions of other Americans to the gold-laden man that pities fools. It was during a segment showing a competition for "America's Toughest Bouncer." He won, of course. Or, at least that's the way I remember it. Most notably, he destroyed the opposition during the dwarf tossing event. No, I'm serious. If you saw The Wolf of Wall Street, you probably remember the guys trying to organize just such a thing. Martin Scorcese, or Jordan Belfort didn't make that up. Shit was real.

Ahhh, the 80s.

Anyhoo, one of the other millions of Americans to meet Mr. T through "Games People Play" was The Italian Stallion himself, Sylvester Stallone. Sly was so taken with the dude, he cast him as Clubber Lang in 1982's Rocky III where he pitied more fools than I thought it possible to pity. He prescribed pain and offered to show Adrian a real man. I was hooked.

It should come as no surprise that when, a year later, his next movie hit theaters I clamored to see it. It was a comedy entitled D.C. Cab. It looked hilarious in the commercials...yes, commercials. Us normal people didn't call them trailers, yet. Like any twelve year old enamored with the phenomenon known as Mr. T, I begged Mom to take me to see it. She didn't watch "Games People Play" and didn't care for any of the Rocky movies. It was also rated R and the Raiders of the Lost Ark/Raw Force debacle was still fresh in her mind. So, she said no and stood her ground.

She just didn't get it.

Nearly a year later, a friend of mine convinced his parents to rent it and I finally got to see D.C. Cab in all its glory. I was a bit disappointed Mr. T didn't really have much to do, but I enjoyed it anyway. I thought it was one of the funniest movies of all time. It revolves around country boy Albert (a rather bland Adam Baldwin) arriving in Washington, D.C. to work for the D.C. Cab company, duh, which is owned by Harold (Max Gail of Barney Miller fame), a friend of his dad. Howard's employees are pretty much a joke all by themselves. They are played by a nice mix of people who have went on to bigger and better things and others who were unknowingly near the end of their fifteen minutes of fame.

One of those who has enjoyed a long career is Gary Busey who plays me...I mean, a cabbie named Dell. He had already been around for quite a while, but he wasn't exactly what you would call a star.Still, he gets one of the movie's most memorable lines when he lets his boss know "I don't work January the 8th, 'cause it's Elvis' birthday." He actually has a number of one liners that are among the movies funniest moments.

A few others made their big screen debuts in this movie. One of them was comedienne Marsha Warfield. She plays Ophelia, Max's only competent cab driver. Unfortunately, some guy in a ski mask keeps showing up in her cab with a gun and robbing her. Warfield shows some promise here. She would parlay that into a role on one of my favorite sitcoms of all time, Night Court. Another stand-up, Paul Rodriguez, would also debut here. Inexplicably, he still gets the occasional gig. I've never thought of him as especially funny. The most lasting talent to come out of this crop of comics is yet another making his movie debut, Bill Maher. Well, now that I'm familiar with him, it's easy to see he just plays Bill Maher, but as a cab driver.

We're actually not done with comedians debuting in this movie. Charlie Barnett was another such person. He plays Tyrone, a ball of manic energy that plays up stereotypes and tries to subvert them later in the movie. Barnett gives the movie's best performance, owning every scene in which he appears, turning it into a showcase for himself. He gets the movie's best lines when talking to Albert during a quiet moment. We know that Albert's father has died and the young man is having a tough go of it in the big city. Tyrone sobers him up by saying "...and don't think I feel sorry for you 'cause your daddy died. My father came back from the Korean War with his brains so scrambled, he thought he was Jesus! They put him in a nuthouse for five years, when he came out, he didn't think he was Jesus no more, he thought he was God. Which made me Jesus." Barnett has gained recognition as a street performer in New York City and this was thought to be his big break. Sadly, it didn't work out that way. He did a few more things, but nothing of any note. He eventually became addicted to heroin and contracted HIV. He passed away in 1996.

By the way, I also got a flashback to an even earlier decade while watching this. Of course, there's Max Gail who played in the great cop show Barney Miller. However, I'd forgotten that Whitman Mayo was in this. He plays Mr. Rhythm here, but he's best known for his recurring role as Grady on Sanford & Son.

Ahhh, the 70s.

As a whole, the movie is still light-hearted fun, if goofy and predictable. Along with Albert's fish out of water story, there is a rival cab company, Howard's failing marriage, and eventually, Albert gets kidnapped. The gang of misfits he calls friends has to band together and try to save the day.

How about Mr. T?

Like I said, he doesn't get to do much despite being prominently featured in all of the advertising for the film. He was the biggest name in the cast at the time. Every now and again, he spouts off a line, pities a fool or two, and flexes his muscles by doing something crazy alongside the Barbarian Brothers. Oh, you're truly an 80s baby if you know who the Barbarian Brothers are. They are twin brothers David and Peter Paul who showed up in a few things to do precisely what they do here, be silly while performing feats of amazing strength. Singer Irene Cara also shows up as herself for a cameo. At the time, she was known for starring in and singing the theme song to the movie Fame During the same year D.C. Cab came out, she hit it big by singing the theme for the movie Flashdance. She's in the movie for one brief scene, but like Mr. T, gets used for her name. The movie was promoted as starring Irene Cara. Those ad men, I tell ya. They know all the tricks.

I watched D.C. Cab with my son. He laughed. I laughed. A few times, we laughed hysterically. We both knew it wasn't great, but had a good time taking it all in. Okay, I'll admit it. Occasionally, I'm still easily amused. Sue me. Just not on January the 8th.

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  1. Oh man, this is such an insane film but goddamn.... so fucking hilarious. It is all sorts of fun and filled with mayhem. The cast was crazy.... Mr. T, the Barbarian Brothers, Paul Rodriguez, Marsha Warfield, Adam Baldwin, Bill Maher, and most of all, Gary Busey who is the craziest of them all.

    January 8th? Why? Is it because it's the birthday of Elvis Presley & David Bowie? That's the day I want to get married on... because of Bowie. Elvis may be the King but.... Bowie is God!

    1. Insane ia very good way ti describe this movie. You're right, Busey was great. I had no idea Bowie shared a birthday with Elvis. Hope you find someone willing to go along with your marriage wish.