There are two important points to take note of before you invest any time in watching The Cars That Ate Paris. Number one, it isn’t set in France. Number two, no one actually gets eaten by a car.
Still reading? Good for you. I didn’t think the ‘not French’ thing would particularly bother you but I’m surprised you weren’t put off by the bit about there not being rampaging murderous automobiles. The Cars That Ate Paris is a bizarre little film about the strange town of Paris, Australia and its corrupt inhabitants.
Arthur is left hospitalised and wracked with guilt after a car crash that has killed his brother George. George had apparently fallen asleep at the wheel, which he wouldn’t have had to do if Arthur had taken his turn at driving. But ever since Arthur hit and killed a pedestrian a year before he hasn’t been able to bring himself to get behind the wheel again.
What Arthur doesn’t know is that his brother didn’t fall asleep at the wheel. Rather, the two fell prey to one of the several traps that are laid for motorists who drive through Paris. The wreckages are then taken and used and any survivors are donated to the local doctor for ‘experimentation’. The town’s Mayor decides to keep Arthur. He is tricked into staying and moves in with the mayor and his family.
Friction in the town between the young gang (known as ‘The Cars’ because they, you know, like to drive around in cars) and the corrupt elders that run the town threatens to boil over. Then, when a visiting pastor is shot by one of the Doctor’s ‘experiments’ the town finds itself on the brink of chaos. All the while Arthur just wants to go home.
The Cars That Ate Paris is a strange affair. It’s a dark comedy and it’s satirical, but it’s also quite, quite insane. It’s a little bit like if The Wicker Man were to be rewritten by an Australian Top Gear enthusiast whilst on lots and lots of drugs.
At its essence the film is a comedy and to some degree it succeeds, because in places it is funny. It also benefits from a decent cast who do the quirky characters justice. The other positive that you’re likely to take from this film is that the cars look really cool. They all look a bit like what you’d expect to see the gangs from The Warriors driving. If they’d used these cars to make The Fast and the Furious, I’d probably make the effort to watch it, Vin Diesel or not.
The film does have its share of problems, though. The action is a long time coming and when it does finally turn up, it all feels a little anti-climactic. In fact, the whole ending is a bit of a disappointment. Many other story elements also feel under-developed. Plus, the cars aside, the film isn’t particularly visually engaging.
That said, The Cars That Ate Paris is good fun. It probably worked much better in its time (I got that it was satirical but I’m not well versed in Australian economics of the 70s and so it was pretty much wasted on me) but there is still a fair amount to enjoy. An interesting early effort from director Peter Weir.