Few things can make your skin crawl like trying to buy a car at a car dealership. The process is as close to a criminal enterprise as business laws allow: the prospective buyer is sweet-talked, subjected to bait-and-switch tactics, blindsided by price changes and “extras,” etc. From start to finish, the “negotiation” process involves out-and-out lies by the salespeople and managers. You know you’re going to be cheated when you walk in and you just try your best to minimize the damage you know you’re going to suffer.
Suckers is a film devoted to exploring that experience, primarily from the point of view of the people perpetrating the hustle. Our entrance into this labyrinth of legal crime is aligned with the viewpoint of Bobby (Louis Mandylor), a luckless newlywed whose wife Donna (Lori Loughlin) works at a used car dealership. He takes a job there to appease her and rebuild their finances. He quickly finds himself in the employ of Reggie (Daniel Benzali), the gleeful sleaze who manages the dealership. He’s an expert at hustling the rubes and aggressively pushes his staff to cheat the customers in every way to extract the maximum number of dollars.
With the help of friendly middle manager Eddie (Michael D. Roberts), Bobby learns the ropes and soon becomes proficient at the used car hustle. He’s extra motivated to succeed and earn bonuses because he’s secretly in hock to a pair of loansharks (including David Allan Brooks from Scream For Help) who turn their covetous eyes towards his place of work. There’s also some sort of extracurricular criminal activity going on at night in the dealership’s mechanic shop…
Suckers is the work of Roger Nygard, who in recent years has become a successful editor on shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm and Veep. However, around the time of this film, he was best known for his comedic documentary Trekkies. He brings that kind of verite style and snappy energy to Suckers: the opening titles sequence, which depicts a salesman breaking down a customer to sign a contract with double-talk and manipulation, is a great example of the film’s jittery rhythms and darkly humorous insights into the used car hustle.
Nygard populates Suckers with an array of colorful characters and entertaining vignettes. For example, one of Bobby’s fellow salesmen is Mohammed (Eli Danker), a former Afghan soldier with a unique motivation for pursuing fast cash at the dealership and there’s a pretty funny sequence involving a naive young salesman finding himself seduced by a prospective customer.
The script, co-written by Nygard with Joe Yannetty, does a convincing job of laying out the crooked sales techniques that fuel the dealership’s success. It also is effective at creating a satirical tone that frames the “cheat or be cheated” mentality of its setting: the big achievement lies in the pre-work day pep talks that Reggie gives to his staff, using humor and alpha energy to rev them up for fleecing the customers.
That said, Suckers also has a crime movie element that comes to dominate the film’s third act. The characters and situations that drive that side of the film are less interesting than the car salesmanship and don’t really compliment the humorous but plausible car dealership side. They also lead the film into a rather abrupt finale that is a bit too pat and lightweight for its own good.
Those issues aside, Suckers remains a breezy and frequently funny watch. Nygard doesn’t go in for a lot of cinematic flash in his visuals, choosing to let the script and characters drive the narrative instead, but he’s quite skilled at using editing to maintain an aggressive tempo that reflects the pressure of its main setting. He also gets a number of strong performances: Mandylor makes a likeable audience surrogate, one that’s subtle enough in this outlandish setting to keep us sympathetic, and Benzali makes a meal out of every brash, Mamet-esque spiel he gets here. Danker, better known for his work in action films, is funny and unexpectedly moving in a few surprise drama beats.
Simply put, Suckers is a bit rough around the edges but more often than not that aspect of the production compliments its portrait of legalized crime. Besides, it’s well worth a look for anyone who’s about to walk the gauntlet of a car dealership so they can learn what goes on when their salesman goes to “talk to the manager.”
Blu-Ray Notes: this just got an excellent blu-ray edition from Synapse Films. It boasts a sleek transfer and a 5.1 stereo remix plus a commentary and some outtake footage. Even better, you get an entire extra film, Six Days In Roswell, with its own batch of extras – that film alone is worth the price of admission.