Moving Violations review by Mike Long

We are taught to never settle for second best, but we often must in life. Whether it be getting a store brand instead of the name brand or finding yourself driving the shopping cart with the crazy wheel, we can't always get our first choice. But, when it comes to movies, fans should be able to get the real thing if possible. Of course, video store shelves are crammed with low-budget movies which are clones of other films. But, few films have the odd distinction of Moving Violations, a film which stars the siblings of more famous actors.

As Moving Violations opens, we are introduced to a characters who are ticketed for various traffic infractions, including Dana Cannon (John Murray, Bill's brother), Amy Hopkins (Jennifer Tilly, Meg's sister), "Doc" Williams (Fred Willard), and Scott Greeber (Brian Backer). All of these characters are sentenced to attend traffic school. Deputy Halik (James Keach, Stacey's brother) has recently been demoted, mainly due to an altercation with Dana Cannon, and is now teaching the traffic school class. Enraged at this humiliating new job, Halik is open to the ideas of Judge Henderson (Sally Kellerman), who wants to him to fail all of the students and sell off their cars. As Halik's behavior becomes more insane and barbaric, Dana and the other students begin to realize that the class may be rigged and decide to take matters into their own hands.

Moving Violations is an odd little piece of 80s nostalgia, as it contains so many leftovers from other movies. On the commentary track including on the DVD, co-writer/director Neal Israel states that the film was conceived, shot, and placed in theaters within six months. Seeing the film again after all of these years (more on this in a moment) it's easy to believe this, as the movie contains very few original thoughts.

For beginners, we have the aforementioned cast of siblings. Keep in mind that this film was released in 1985. Meg Tilly had already had big roles in The Big Chill and Psycho II, and her sister Jennifer was a relative unknown. James Keach had been in several movies and TV shows, but his brother Stacy was well-known at that time for the Mike Hammer TV series. And then we have John Murray. Bill's younger brother hadn't had a major role in anything up to this point and his amateur status really shows through in Moving Violations. He bares a slight resemblance to Bill and throughout the film it feels as if he's doing an impression of his more famous brother and never acting. In fact, he doesn't have dialogue, as much as he has lines. It was a gamble to hang a film on this man, and this experiment goes awry, as his irritating performance only makes the audience long for Bill Murray. On a positive note, eagle-eyed viewers will spot Don Cheadle in his big-screen debut.

Along with the second-hand cast, we have the recycled plot. Israel and co-writer Pat Proft had previously worked together on Police Academy and here they simply transpose the characters. Instead of screw-up cops, we have screw-up offenders who must outsmart the ruthless policeman. The duo had also worked together on 1984's Bachelor Party, so one would expect some quality from Moving Violations. The film offers very little character development past the typical stereotypes -- although I must admit that the horror-film obsessed character was a nice touch. The film has a premise, but no real story, as it broken down into small vignettes. The nadir of the film is the appearance of Clara Peller, who was recognizable at that time at the Wendy's "Where's the Beef?" lady.

I had the typical suburban upbringing in the 1980s, which means that I watched movies on HBO over and over again, and Moving Violations was one of those films. I guess that I found it amusing at that time, but today, the film comes across as pretty lame. To be fair, there are some funny moments in the movie, especially the odd misunderstanding between Fred Willard and Wendie Jo Sperber. The movie was one of the first batch of PG-13 films and has some embarrassingly envelope-pushing sexual humor. Moving Violations isn't abysmal, but it's a perfect example of how Hollywood tries to capitalize on the success of other films and watching this also-ran will only leave you craving the real thing.

Moving Violations crashes onto DVD courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer is OK, but it does have its share of problems. The image shows a noticeable amount of grain and it is quite soft at times. Also, the picture is conspicuously dark at times. While the colors are good for the most part, they are somewhat washed out in some shots. The transfer reveals some minor defects from the source material as well. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which is also disappointing. The dialogue is sharp and clear, but it comes mainly from the center channel. The only time that I noticed any stereo effects were during musical cues. I had to place my ear right next to the surround speakers in order to hear anything, and I noticed a great deal of hissing. Finally, the subwoofer was mute throughout the film.

The DVD contains two extra features. We start with the aforementioned audio commentary from co-writer/director Neal Israel. He speaks at length throughout the film and clearly has a great memory, as he discusses the origins of the film and the movie's production. He's especially good at remembering locations and shooting conditions. However, he doesn't have much to say about John Murray. The only other extra on the DVD is the original trailer for Moving Violations, which is presented full-frame. As a nice bonus, the DVD includes a very detailed mock driver's handbook which is full of jokes and references from the film.

4 out of 10 Jackasses

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