Docurama // 2004 // 85 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // August 19th, 2004
"This is a show to me. It's not a sale, it's a show. You just got to make sure everything's right, because tomorrow is show time." -- Michael Bennett
If there is any doubt remaining in anyone's mind, Slasher has finally come along to put it to rest. Bottom line, you just can't trust a used car salesman. This is a quick, fun little documentary that follows a salesman during a three-day sale in Memphis. You'll enjoy watching the film, but you'll probably be glad that you weren't there trying to get a car.
In the used car industry, a slasher leads a contracted team that helps dealerships move their stale merchandise quickly. Michael Bennett is one such Slasher, and this documentary follows him through a three-day sale with his DJ, Kevin, and Mud, a mercenary salesman that Michael knows can back it up. The venue for this particular sale was a Toyota dealership right next to the FedEx headquarters in Memphis, which is both the home of Elvis and the bankruptcy capitol of the world. It's immediately clear that the dealership isn't in great shape, but will Bennett be able to turn the situation around? One thing's for sure, he's willing to do whatever it takes to sell those cars.
Documentaries have picked up in the past few years, and a lot of them have focused closely on the American government and corporations. While most of these seem to have important points to make, it was refreshing to sit down to Slasher, which has no such pretensions. It just wants to be entertaining, give us a little insight into the used car business, and serve it all up with a sweet soul soundtrack.
Michael Bennett and his team are the perfect hosts for this tour through the shifty world of used car sales. He is a truly fascinating man, so wired that he never stops moving. He drinks beer at all hours of the day, smokes multiple cigarettes at a time, loves his family, and talks in a tough, raspy voice. He talks about his sale philosophies and personal life with absolute candor, to the point where it's never quite clear whether he realizes that this is meant to be entertaining. He is great at what he does, and he has developed a system to sell cars quickly and cheaply, using whatever means necessary. He starts by complaining that people perceive him as a liar, then he proceeds to hike the original prices, hire pretty girls, works out a name tag system that checks available credit then labels customers in order of economic capability.
The rest of his team is equally amusing. Kevin has a wicked sense of humor and a short temper. He obviously loves being in front of the camera, and his banter with Michael is as entertaining as any comedy I have seen in the past few years. Mud is a great salesman, with a keen eye for detail and an impressive amount of tenacity. These three have spent a lot of time working together, and it really does show. The salesmen at the dealership are also really candid in front of the camera, and express their frustrations, disappointments, and distrust of Bennett's team with as much honesty as you could ask for.
Because the sale goes so poorly initially, there is some genuine suspense as to whether the sale will be successful or not. After a terrible first day, everyone involved starts to get pretty frazzled, which makes for an interesting second and third day. In so many documentaries, you already know the story ahead of time, so it's fun to have that added element of surprise. This isn't a blazing success story, though, which is what I would have expected.
The other great news is that Slasher doesn't overstay its welcome. At a tight 85 minutes, we get the information we need, and it's over before it starts to get dull. Oh, and the soundtrack rocks. Only the director of The Blues Brothers could have come up with this fun of a R&B/soul soundtrack, which captures the mood of the film perfectly and offers a pleasant distraction for any times that do start to drag a little.
The transfer is acceptable, but barely. The film is presented in 1.85:1, but it has not been enhanced for widescreen televisions. I had this same beef the last time I reviewed a Docurama disc, and the complaint still holds. If this company wants their documentaries to hold up in the competitive DVD market, they are going to need to deliver anamorphic transfers. The actual video quality depends largely on the available light in each scene. There are few digital flaws, but some of the footage doesn't look that great. The sound is somewhat better, with the soundtrack pumping through just how it should. The dialogue is always clear, too, which is surprising considering the planes constantly flying overhead and the generally poor recording conditions.
The three guys on the commentary try hard not to make a "commentary for the blind." The track starts out a little slow, but once the rhythm gets going, they talk in depth about plenty of interesting things. The shooting and editing process for documentaries is always fascinating, and Slasher is no exception. John Landis, especially, is quite entertaining to listen to.
There is also a brief featurette on the making of the film, but it's basically corporate fluff except for a few interesting interview segments with John Landis. There's nothing here that isn't handled better in the commentary, though. Finally, there are about ten minutes of deleted scenes, mostly material that was entertaining but didn't really fit into the structure of the film. They are worth watching, though, as they reveal a few more of the things that happen behind the scenes during a slasher sale.
There are hardly any moments with people acting like they have cameras in their faces. There are some of the lesser subjects, though, who try to ham it up for the crew. This is not cool. Naturally funny people are great to have in a documentary like this, but people trying to be funny because there's a camera present is just annoying to watch.
I'm not sure how many people would want to buy this disc, as I can't imagine it going into regular viewing rotation. Still, it's a thoroughly entertaining film that will get you good and jaded for the next time you need to buy a used car.
I wouldn't buy a car from him, but Michael Bennett's an entertaining guy to watch. He's free to go, as is everyone else. This is a much safer way to get the slasher experience without getting burned on a used car lot.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* IFC Making of Featurette
* Deleted Scene
* Producer Commentary