It’s finally here, people: Turbocharge: The Unauthorized Story of The Cars is available on Amazon Prime! Regular followers of the podcast will know just how much my co-host Dave Curry and I have longed for this day! The journey goes back over a decade…
Dave remembers when this film was completed in 2008, and there were posts popping up on social media about some screenings in New York. For many Cars lovers, the thrust of the movie was perplexing and unclear. A website to promote the film was also launched, featuring some bizarre clips and puzzling images that could only serve to mystify fans even more. Dave’s curiosity was piqued and never quite subsided, even as chatter about the movie eventually cooled. In time, it seemed the reality of this little film was sinking into the depths of Fanorama folklore, with only odd blips of its existence evidenced on its equally fading website.
But like Gage coming back to life in Pet Sematary, awareness resurfaced when the writer of the film, David Juskow, brought up Turbocharge on his personal podcast in December of 2017. Its revival spurred Dave into action, and he began a little Twitter campaign prodding Juskow to dust off the film and share it with us for review on our NiGHT THOUGHTS Podcast. His efforts were successful and Dave and I were allowed a private online screening. We were electrified by the movie, recognizing it as a hilarious and wonderful tribute to The Cars, and we strongly encouraged (begged?) Juskow to reconsider releasing it to the rest of the world. And so here we are!
**Before I get into my review/history of Turbocharge I am going to issue a DISCLAIMER: I know there’s been lots of recent discussion about who we would cast in a serious movie about The Cars. Let me state unequivocally that this movie is NOT a serious movie about The Cars! While much of the band’s true history is represented, this is a parody, an exaggeration, and at times a downright fabrication of events for comedic purposes. As Dave Curry said on our podcast, “In order to enjoy this film, you have to set aside what you know about Ric Ocasek, Benjamin Orr, Elliot Easton, Greg Hawkes, and David Robinson, and you have to accept them as these characters in this film.” If you can do that, you will love this movie!**
Created more as an act of rebellion, New York comedian, writer, and filmmaker David Juskow was fed up with the stereotypical ‘serious’ rock biopic. One night in 2005, after nearly gagging on the cheesy dialog and overbearing drama in Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story, he had had enough. It was the final push he needed to pursue his own project.
“I made Turbocharge out of spite, let’s just say that. It is completely spoofing the genre of any biopic that’s been made of a music band. That is exactly what it is,” Juskow told me with finality.
It’s no secret that The Cars were crazy-popular throughout the late 70s and on into the 80s, but intuitive fans recognize that they were never ones to really push themselves into the spotlight. No exhaustive merchandising, far-reaching world tours, or relentless appearances on the late night television circuit. As a whole, they were a low-key and private band, holding the media at arms’ length and creating an air of mystery about their deeper identity. Did they have a story to tell?
Juskow believed they did.
Exaggerated personalities, terrible wigs, and an unorthodox plot make this hilarious film the breath of fresh air the genre needs. Narrated by a snowman a la Rankin/Bass, the story revolves around The Cars’ reputation for being robotic and boring during live shows, and their supposed determination to correct that perception with the fans. Running alongside that thread is the assertion that bassist Ben Orr was secretly plotting to wrest the control of the group from co-founder and songwriter Ric Ocasek. In an unexpected twist, Phil Collins is delightfully in the middle of it all.
Sure, Juskow pokes fun at the band, but he’s not vicious. He respects all five members very much. “Nothing about the movie is mean-spirited,” he assured me. “I can’t make a movie like that. It’s always got to have goodness in it.” And it’s not like he had to make a bunch of stuff up; Juskow would soon discover that The Cars’ own history easily leant itself to comedic treatment.
On the whole, David Juskow is a man of strong, immediate emotions paired with a very thin verbal filter, pretty standard on the streets of Brooklyn (“People either love me, or they really, really dislike me,” he laughs). Fortunately he grew up in the riotous era of late 1970s television and he generally sees the world through sitcom lenses. Juskow takes timeless gags and bits from those classic shows and weaves them into his standup act. His penchant for spotting the ridiculous moment, his ironic delivery, and his spot-on celebrity impressions soften his edges with his friends and fans. Those talents also lead him to create great comedy.
The idea for Turbocharge actually materialized in the mid-80s during Juskow’s college days. The Heartbeat City album took his ears by storm. He remembered, “I thought it was the greatest album I had ever heard in my life, and ‘You Might Think’ – the song itself – just completely spoke to me. I went backwards from there and started worshipping all of their stuff. The videos made no difference to me, it really was the music, and I just really got into that Heartbeat City album. Greg Hawkes’ influence in that stuff really worked for me and that’s why I really liked them. They just had such interesting melodies and electronic keyboards. And then I was just obsessed with everything they did.”
Lightning hit in the summer of 1985. Juskow’s voice escalated with emotion as he explained, “I remember exactly where I was during Live Aid. I was at this party in Rochester, New York, and I was waiting and waiting for The Cars to come on. Everybody was outside but I’m just waiting for them to be on, and then they get cut off by Phil Collins! And I was like, ‘What?! How could you do that to my boys?!’
“Being a huge fan of The Cars at that time I was so angry that they got shafted that it turned to comedy in my mind. I was like, ‘Someday I’m going to depict that!’”
Two decades later, the time had come. The 20th anniversary of Live Aid unearthed Juskow’s earlier grudge over the Phil Collins fiasco, and that, coupled with his disgust over the Def Leppard movie, prompted him to approach his good friend, television industry veteran Memo Salazar. “I said to him, ‘Let’s just do this. It will be stupid, but it will be brilliant… in a way,’” he laughed.
Memo said he might do it if Juskow wrote the script, and so it was on. Juskow spent the next several months researching The Cars’ history, confirming things he already knew and then going deeper. And the further he dug, the funnier it became. The peculiarity of Ric and Ben’s early partnership, The Cars ‘trashing’ a hotel by leaving pictures askew, the perceived disaster of the Panorama album… it was the oddities in the band’s journey that propelled everything forward with the movie.
Not only that, but the band members’ public personas were ripe for humorous distortion. David Robinson, the consummate ladies’ man – you just had to have that character brought out. And Ric’s exaggerated awe of anyone who does anything ultra-creative, Elliot’s stony seriousness that was masking his sharp wit, and the sweet-faced Greg, who surely must have been hiding a side of snark behind that smile.
“You couldn’t even make a serious biography about these guys. It would have to be hilarious. They are a true rock and roll band who are a bunch of nerds, and I knew I must tell this story in a nerdy way… and yet we all know they rock.”
Juskow does take an obvious amount of creative license, but many of his conjectural elements are a weighty mix of fact and thoughtful contemplation. He fleshes out underlying fan controversies… questions like why didn’t Ben sing more? Was Ben ambitious? Did Ric and Ben reconcile before Ben passed away? Juskow speculated about what might have been bubbling up in Ben. “It’s weird. He clearly has a better singing voice. He’s clearly more attractive. And in my mind I’m saying, ‘what’s going on behind the scenes? Why don’t I do a movie just saying how angry this guy is? He doesn’t have any songwriting talent so he gets screwed.’”
“Everybody takes liberties for drama purposes,” Juskow went on. “What would you have if you didn’t have a fun antagonist? C’mon, you need someone to get mad about Andy Warhol: ‘You hired this guy? Are you kidding me?’”
And there’s the difference: Juskow’s forays into embellishment are not designed to evoke emotion with the cookie-cutter ‘climb to fame’ struggles of the typical rockumentary… they’re just damn funny.
The cast is largely made up from Juskow’s comedy family and ‘friends of friends,’ including Kevin Kash, Rachel Feinstein, Jonathan Katz, Irene Bremis, H John Benjamin, John Samuel Jordan, David Engel, Tom Shillue, and Dave Attell. Juskow himself plays Ric Ocasek. Out of necessity, the lines were few and far between for his character. “There was no way I could direct and be in the movie; it was too complicated. It was way easier to just be silent and ‘tortured.’”
The soundtrack includes music from Eric Barao, The Cautions, Frank Stallone, and a couple of Cars-flavored tunes written by Juskow himself.
As I mentioned above, the film originally opened in 2008 with a few private screenings in the New York area, but Juskow didn’t pursue much more exposure than that. He felt it was a bit of a niche film and was afraid there wouldn’t be much of an audience out there, but we know there is! The playful humor and witty references will hit home with Cars fans and lovers of 80s culture alike. You can check it out on Amazon Prime by clicking here: Turbocharge! Watch it, and then find me on Facebook or comment below to tell me what you think!
To learn even more, visit the Turbocharge Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/turbochargethemovie/, and check out David Juskow’s comedy podcast on Soundcloud here: https://soundcloud.com/davejuskow