The Cars of Good Burger
There are a handful of films in cinema history that are remembered almost exclusively for the cars that were featured in them... Bullit. The French Connection. Gone In Sixty Seconds. Good Burger. The Italian Job. You get the idea, each one is a suitable candidate for the Criterion Collection treatment. I’m singling out one of these today because, while just as beloved by car culture afficianados as the rest, this film has somehow escaped the detailed analysis of it's vehicular cast that every other film has been subjected to in the years since their releases. Please join me as we explore… The Cars of Good Burger.
Good Burger is a 1997 teen comedy that tells the story of Ed (Kel Mitchell), a seemingly slow-witted but well-meaning teenager who works at a local burger joint, and Dexter (Kenan Thompson) who gets a new summer job at the same place in order to pay down a debt he owes one of his Hgh School teachers for damaging his car in an early on-screen escapade. It gets pretty ridiculous from there, and be forewarned it's a spinoff from a Nickelodeon series, but it’s arguably more entertaining when translated to the big screen.
I already knew the Producers were gear heads when I saw a gold-hued Mercedes W123 sedan quickly roll past in the background as Ed first opens the front doors of Good Burger. In filmmaking, things like this are never left to chance, on a controlled street shoot every vehicle would have been specifically chosen ahead of time, rented from a “Movie Car” supplier of choice, delivered via flatbed trucks, equipped with a driver, prepped, cued, and filmed as part of that sequence.
Only minutes later we see Dexter driving a red 1995 Nissan 300zx 2+2 that is quickly identified as being “borrowed” from his mother when his friend in the passenger seat asks, “She let’s you drive this when she’s out of town?” to Dexter's curt reply, “Nope!”
Shortly after, and while driving exactly like you would expect a pre-licensed teenager to drive such a vehicle, Dexter is forced to suddenly swerve to avoid hitting a kid on in-line skates (who we can see is Ed, but Dexter only realizes this later in the film after befriending him) and crashes into the black 1993 Infiniti J30 being piloted by one of his teachers, Mr. Wheat (Sinbad).
We will take pause here to acknowledge & honor Sinbad’s wardrobe in this movie, a light handed pastiche of 70’s-ish style but perpetrated almost entirely our of what looks like an adult Halloween Hippie costume you’d find at Parties Are Us World. His tunic is further embellished with sequins and hand-Sharpied™ with an upside down peace symbol & random phrases in the least professional bit of costuming you’re likely to see this side of a regional children’s theatre production. It really goes over-the-top in that way that kids and stoners mutually enjoy, and perfectly complements Sinbad’s laugh line, ““Brother Reed, you have messed up my Afro!”
After Sinbad explains that, “This is a $22,000 car!” Dexter is forced into a deal whereby he has to get a summer job at the same Good Burger where Ed works, while still not realising Ed was the cause of this whole mess to begin with, in order to raise the funds to pay for the repairs.
While Dexter is at Good Burger applying for a job, the Manager Mr. Bailey (Dan Schneider) asks, “Any accidents on your record?” to which Dexter slyly responds, “Not to your knowledge.” Genius.
The lines delivered throughout this film are truly worthy of recognition, such is their perfection. Among my favorites is the interaction between Ed and Dexter when Dexter is told he needs to drive the Burgermobile to make deliveries. “Think you can handle it?” Ed asks… Dexter responds, “I don't know, I’ve never driven a sandwich before.”
The Burgermobile itself is a thing of wonder and amazement. A 1976 AMC Pacer outfitted in the propmaster’s best including a burger and onion motif, with pickle slices as wheel covers and french fries for bumpers and wiper arms, it's really right up there with the Bladerunner Police Spinner design in terms of reverence among the film’s fans.
Interestingly, the Burger Museum in Daytona Beach, Florida now owns the original Burger Mobile and is seeking donations for it's restoration.
Right at the 22:00 minute mark there is a transition cut where we see a small white car driving slowly past Good Burger, but I have not been able to identify it. It looks oddly Japanese AND British in styling, or maybe even Australian??? Help me out?
(UPDATE: Our own Evan Paul identified the mystery car as a Fit 124 Sport Coupe, well done!)
A few moments later comes another terrific scene, where the acting would bring even Michael Caine to his knees, when Spatch the cook is inspecting a rival burger from the new place opening across the street, he jabs his spatula beneath the patty, lifts it's obvious mass with some difficulty and watches in shame as it's heft starts to bend the handle, turns in agony and self-defeat, grunting displeasure with both the circumstances and his own inadequacies, vocalizing in Chewbacca-like tones as he exits the scene. The role of “Spatch” was played by Ron Lester, who later famously starred in Varsity Blues and passed away in June of 2016.
Directly afterwards comes this classic exchange among the staff,
“How do they do it?!?!”
“They just use more meat.”
“Awwww, poor cows.”
“I can always feed my mother cat food.”
Also, what’s up with the song that goes “feel my desire…” randomly showing up throughout the movie in the most random spots??? Maybe it's the Wilhelm Scream of this particular film.
Later, the boys confiscate a Divco Ice Cream truck for yet another madcap street mauling.
SPOILER ALERT!!! SPOILER ALERT!!! SPOILER ALERT!!! SPOILER ALERT!!!
When it's all said and done and the evil guys from the rival Mondo Burger get shut down and all the baddies are arrested, Sinbad delivers his estimate to Dexter for final compensation, and just as all seems ready to be tied up in a nice little package of resolution, the giant Hamburger mascot falls from the roof and crushes Sinbad’s freshly restored Infinity.
Good Burger has a 63% Rotten Tomatoes audience score (fuck the critic’s paltry 32% rating, what movie WERE they watching???). It was rather appropriately filmed in West Covina, California, which, if you know the areas around LA, it fits rather well the “built in the 90’s” suburbia-dreamscape that matches the film's aesthetic.
Good Burger man, Good Burger.