Pink Cadillac, the third film directed by former stuntman Buddy Van Horn and also his third film to star Clint Eastwood, is his attempt to make an action/romance movie set on the road with some lightweight comedy thrown which unfortunately results in something of a mixed bag. Eastwood plays Tommy Nowak, a skip tracer, which is someone who tracks down people who have fled town without paying their bail. Tommy Nowak clearly enjoys his work and the unconventionality and creative freedom it allows him. We are introduced to his character with him pretending to be making a call from a radio station promising a thug that he has won tickets to see Dolly Parton perform that evening and to be expecting a limousine to pick him up. He even goes through the effort of dressing as a chauffeur before throwing the guy in the back of his car and revealing that he’s going back to jail.
Bernadette Peters plays Lou Ann, a young mother living in a trailer park with her husband who has been recently freed from prison and has brought his prison cohorts along with him. Lou Ann is barely able to make rent on their trailer, and her husbands plan to get them out of poverty is to deal in counterfeit money, his latest scheme in a list of unsuccessful endeavours. Lou Ann figured thought she was getting married to James Dean she says about Joe later in the film, however that was about 40,000 beers ago. When the house is raided by police and the counterfeit money is stolen she is the only one tried by police who set her bail at $25,000. Seeing this as the last straw she decides to steal her husbands pink Cadillac, prompting the trailer landlord to say the most quotable line of the film “You don’t mess with another mans vehicle!”
In steps Nowak, a man who will do anything he can so that he doesn’t have to sit in an office and fill out paperwork, to track her down. He becomes put off when he learns that her husbands family is mixed up with a group of outlaws known as ‘The Birthright’ yet decides to travel to Reno to pick her up anyway. Therein lies one a major flaw of the film as a group of white supremacists who speak about killing blacks and Jews with machine guns in the forest does not feel like it belongs in this movie. Even though they are the bad guys and will undoubtedly come unstuck by the end of the film, their views leave a nasty aftertaste as they do not blend with the lightweight comedy and silly action of the rest of the film.
Eastwood playing a hardened man with a heart of stone that becomes melted by a woman is something that has been seen dozens of times on screen and nothing new is added this go around. Though Eastwood and Peters do have chemistry, it is difficult to believe that Nowak, a man who only ever looks out for himself would risk his job and jail time in order to save a woman whom he has known for a mere 24 hours. However they do have a lot of fun in their scenes together, in particular a scene in which Nowak goes undercover dressed in a gold tuxedo impersonating a casino promoter. Lou Ann is supposed to play a character in the charade as well yet when she becomes left alone with the keys in the car she decides to make an escape. Upon seeing the sting go wrong Lou Ann has a change of heart and decides to drive back crashing Nowak’s car in the process of catching their target. Of course Nowak’s totalled car means that they now have no choice but to drive the famed pink Cadillac back home.
Unbeknownst to Lou Ann when she stole the car is that a quarter of a million dollars is in the boot, which also happens to be the entire budget of the ‘Birthright.’ Why they decided to leave their fortune in the back of such a conspicuous car and not hidden at their headquarters in the woods is something that is never explained, yet these boys are not known for their high IQ scores. Before Lou Ann goes back to jail she decides to make one last trip to her sister’s house where she has left her baby in order to say goodbye. Upon arriving they discover that Joe and one of his prison cohorts are there waiting. A violent shootout ensues which results in Joe making off with the baby while his cohort is fatally wounded by Tom. The leader of the ‘Birthright’ upon hearing what has transpired makes it his personal mission to hunt down and kill Nowak as it is now no longer about the money, it is now personal, a classic action movie staple.
In the inevitable shootout climax in the woods, Van Horn tries to redeem Joe’s character by making him join up with Lou Ann and Nowak as they try to infiltrate the camp. This sudden change of heart feels completely ridiculous in light of the events leading up to it. He was apparently trusted to be the money-holder for ‘Birthright’ as well as being the kidnapper of Lou Ann’s, not to mention his own baby, yet when Nowak says why doesn’t he change sides Joe might as well go “Okey Dokey.” The three of them manage to take down most of the camp before Lou Ann and Tom make their escape in the now battered Cadillac as it drives off into the sunset.
While it would be harsh to say that Pink Cadillac is an example of Clint going through the motions to collect his pay check at the end as there are lots of enjoyable scenes in this film, not least of which is a brief cameo by a then undiscovered Jim Carrey doing an Elvis interpretation, it is unlikely that Pink Cadillac is going to make any Clint films top ten list.