A Nice Blu-ray Can’t Save Joel Schumacher’s Raucous Terminally-1980s Taxicab Comedy From Faring as Poorly as Ever.
DIRECTED BY JOEL SCHUMACHER/1983
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: DECEMBER 1, 2020/KL STUDIO CLASSICS
Meanwhile at D.C. Cab…
So goes the intro to every radio spot for 1983’s D.C. Cab, an odd duck comedy that’s as head-scratchingly of its time (down to the season) as it is formulaic. Things are regularly raucous at this last-place low-end taxicab service. Staffed and stocked with a curiously multicultural motley crew (including Mr. T, comedians Paul Rodriguez, Charlie Barnett, and Bill Maher, the bodybuilding Barbarian Brothers, and an Elvis-obsessed Gary Busey), there seems to be no reigning in the colorful shenanigans of this gruff bunch in our nation’s capitol. (If nothing else, D.C. Cab is a boots-on-the-ground location shoot that showcases the rarely filmed nooks and crannies of Washington D.C.).
Enter Albert Hockenberry (Adam Baldwin, meh), a twerpy young newcomer looking to make it big in the taxicab business. It just so happens that his late father’s military buddy (Max Gail) owns and operates the D.C. Cab Company. Eventually, after a plot twist or two, Albert leads an internal charge to turn the place around. If it’s true in home selling, it’s true in the cab driving business: a fresh coat of paint can work wonders. That, and a new sign out front. And some slick, yellow early ‘80’s branded windbreakers.
But then, Albert (along with the children of a wealthy diplomat) gets kidnapped. The cabbies must pool together to save the day. A motivational speech by Mr. T in front of the Lincoln Memorial is all anyone needs to hear. Onward with the wacky rescue!
D.C. Cab, as written and directed by Joel Schumacher, plays like a kind of knuckleheaded Janus deity. The film embodies a forward-thinking diversity in its casting and focus, and ultimately embraces the Reagan-era pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps mentality. But also- and honestly, to its detriment- is also a very coarse 1970s-style comedy.
D.C. Cab, as photographed by Dean Cundey (already boasting D.P. credits for Halloween and Escape from New York), is a movie that insists upon its own grunginess and grime. Although bloodless and as light as a carbon emission, D.C. Cab opts to be R-rated; an otherwise kid-friendly romp with boobs and f-bombs. Were the film conceived not even a year later, it, like Ghostbusters, would likely be of a very different tenor. In any case, it’s dumb; even dumber than it means to be.
Whenever D.C. Cab is remembered these days, it’s typically in an unflattering manner. Fewer still likely actually have seen the movie. A poorly reviewed flop in its time, audiences were compelled to stay away, and did just that. Even Schumacher was dismissive of it, later claiming that it was only ever just a paycheck gig on his way to bigger and sometimes better things. For him, D.C. Cab’s straddling between trendy garishness and boundaries-pushing sensibility with mainstream mugging might just be his primary takeaway. (Ala 1997’s Batman & Robin)
Not only does Kino Lorber grant its nice-looking release of D.C. Cab a film historian commentary track, it has recruited two such experts for the job. Daniel Kremer Scout Tafoya have valiantly done their homework, right down to admitting that the Peabo Bryson-sung theme song is now stuck in their heads. The pace, tone and conversational flow of the track is much appreciated, even as it’s apparent that there is a lot of ground that can be covered regarding this of all movies.
Although D.C. Cab presents as a scrappy sort of underdog movie on the emerging blockbuster stage, there are plenty of context clues that Schumacher and powerful executive producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber had resources at their disposal. Their attempts to play to the fleeting early-1980s zeitgeist might’ve been in vain, but composer Giorgio Moroder couldn’t have come cheap, nor the famous painted one-sheet by acclaimed graphic artist Drew Struzan.
The image of a hulking Mr. T holding the detached door of a taxicab both nails the vibe and exaggerates the size of the A-Team star’s role in the thing. (Gary Busey, still a supporting player here, probably has more screen time). Nevertheless, the image is a compelling piece of early 1980s kitsch in a way that the film itself is not.
Making good on the credit promising talented of-the-moment singer “Irene Cara as herself” might’ve been a matter of a phone call for Flashdance executive producers Guber and Peters, but like the exaggeration of the Mr. T poster, Ms. Cara’s cab-ride cameo only contributes to D.C. Cab’s misfired panderings to hipness. One suspects, however, that it’s the retrospect amusement of dated go-for-broke exaggeration in the face of such a slight movie that will drive anyone so compelled to pick up this perfectly respectable Blu-ray.