Collision Course (1989)

Collision Course (1989)

Tagline: “The only thing stopping these two cops from solving the crime of the century… is each other.”

Choice IMDB keywords: Motor Car Industry; Stereotype; Exploding Car; Pepsi; Kentucky Fried Chicken

Director: Lewis Teague 

Plot: In the crumbling Detroit of 1986, a Japanese homicide investigator played by Pat Morita must confront a xenophobic populace—which holds the Japanese responsible for the dire state of the American automobile industry—in order to track down the people responsible for the theft of a valuable prototype. The worst offender? A wisecracking gearhead cop played by Jay Leno, in his first and only starring vehicle.

At first, Morita is confused by Americans’ bizarre customs and strange language (he’s flummoxed, for example, over why anyone would put a large animal like a moose in their hair), but after a night of binge-drinking Kamikazes with Leno, he loosens up a little as his American counterpart introduces him to such beloved American buddy-cop customs as the car chase through the fruit stand and the shootout in a spooky old junkyard. 

In a bizarre, heretofore unseen development, these ostensible enemies become the unlikeliest of friends. Morita and Leno become so close that when Leno is shot, Morita becomes so enraged he violates seemingly every law of gravity and plausibility by leaping feet-first over the hood of a speeding car so he can kick out the windshield of the car carrying the people who shot Leno. That, friends, is dedication, as well as the source of perhaps the least convincing insert shot of all time. See below.

Key scenes: Leno is introduced trading racially charged, colorful, completely incomprehensible banter with a pair of black hot-rodders. 

Leno flexes his acting muscles by making an angry face when a fellow cop casts aspersions on a friend of his. 

A cop serves up a heaping helping of Reagan-era Midwestern ignorance when he tells Morita, “I talk some Jap: ‘Toyota. Mitsubishi. Kawasaki. Teriyaki.’ What do they call you, anyway? Tojo? Honda? Sushi? Sanyo? What do they call you?” Not to be outdone, Morita tells the offensive officer to “read my rips” before introducing himself as a Japanese homicide detective. And when Morita discusses the case with his Japanese superior over the phone, Leno helpfully “translates” “Godzilla is attacking the city. For the love of God, stay in your homes!” It’s funny, because like everything else in Collision Course, it’s pretty racist. 

At a bowling alley, Morita is held responsible for what bowlers see as Japan’s unfair trade practices and prohibitively heavy tariffs on imported goods. The bowlers mount an incongruously sophisticated analysis of the foreign-trade situation that, like most things in the ’80s, morphs slowly but surely into a bowling-alley fistfight set to bad saxophone music. 

Then this happens:  

In a completely unrelated development, Collision Course somewhat notoriously ran out of money on the last day of shooting, and had to cut corners on post-production and editing. Consequently, though filmed in 1986, it wasn’t released until 1989. But do the seams show? Yes. 

Can easily be distinguished by: Where else can you find Jay Leno mechanically spitting out canned one-liners or talking about how much he loves cars? Apart from television, that is. Or movie cameos. Maybe Indian casinos throughout the country? 

Sign that it was made in 1986: In 1986, the Detroit car industry was merely struggling, and not a deathly drag on the American economy. Also, the city did not yet look post-apocalyptic. 

Timeless message: Leno articulates the xenophobic message of the film when he tells the security at a hotel to “hold anybody who looks different.”

Memorable quotes: In a characteristic bit of cultural sensitivity, a Detroit cop asks of a Japanese corpse, “Can you call a Jap a John Doe?”

Filed Under: Film

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