Monday, January 03, 2022

King Car, from Brazil

The Fiat Uno is one of the most reliable and affordable cars you can buy in Brazil. Uno was born in one—hence his name. Unfortunately, a lot of older models will be taken off the road due to a new green anti-junker policy. As usual, environmentalism does no favors for the working class. Uno grew up around such vehicles. He can even talk to them, sort of like Dr. Doolittle, so he empathizes and helps with a scheme to save them from their bureaucratic fate, but things get way out of hand in Renata Pinheiro’s King Car, which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

Uno always used to play in one of his father’s taxis, because it always looked out for him. Sadly, his mother had a fatal accident driving it, when it swerved on its own to avoid him. His grieving father then mothballed the damaged cab and banished it along with Uno’s wacky mechanic Uncle “Ze Monkey” to the family junk yard.

After high school, Uno defies his father by enrolling in an agricultural program, but their produce pick-up is over fifteen years-old and therefore prohibited. On the outs with his dad, Uno starts hanging with Uncle Ze, whom he helps retrofit his old car pal. After their refab, it looks like an unusually fast and furious Uno, which they dub “Carro Rei” (King Car). It still has a life of its own. In fact, it can seduce a pole-dancer
Titane-style and brainwash Uncle Ze and other mechanics into an ominous zombie army.

That probably makes
King Car sound like more fun than it really is. The tone is moody as heck and the leftist politics are in your face. Frankly, Luciano Pedro Jr is so sulky as Uno it is hard to engage with him. His chemistry with fellow student Amora (played by Joelma Martins) is also pretty flat.

However, Matheus Nachtergaele (the best-known cast-member, sort a Brazilian cross between Christopher Walken and Steve Buscemi) is pretty amazing as Uncle Ze. He is weird and squirrely, while mastering simian body movements nearly as well as Terry Notary in
The Square.

Instead of embracing the strangeness of the premise she developed with co-screenwriters Sergio Oliveira and Leo Pyrata, Pinheiro keeps try to mine it for confused political points. Supposedly, this is all an attack on capitalism, but environmentalism and even China seem to play an unsavory role in whatever really happens in this film.

Pinheiro is admirably ambitious and Nachtergaele is entertainingly odd, but it never cohesively comes together and pacing is a major issue. Arguably, it is more of a concept to discuss than a film you would want to watch. Not recommended,
King Car opens this Friday (1/7) in LA at the Laemmle Glendale.