Surely everyone in the world has seen Bohemian Rhapsody, the first in a series of rock biopics to hit the big screen in 2019. And while it’s masterfully done, the film definitely adheres to the formula: play it fast and loose with the timeline, pit the downtrodden but uber-talented star against a faithless antagonist, and then finish with a top-of-the-charts victory proving everyone one wrong. And that’s basically the way the genre goes, right?
Wrong. At least, not when it comes to Turbocharge: The Unauthorized Story of The Cars.
Created more as an act of rebellion, New York comedian, writer, and filmmaker David Juskow was fed up with the stereotypical rock-and-roll movie. Back in 2005, after nearly gagging on the cheesy dialog and overbearing drama in Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story, he had had enough. It was the final push he needed to pursue his own project. “I made Turbocharge out of spite, let’s just say that. It is completely spoofing the genre of any biopic that’s been made of a music band. That is exactly what it is,” David Juskow says with finality.
Now let’s back up a bit. You know The Cars, right? Inducted into the 2018 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Boston band broke into the fairly stagnant music scene of 1978, pulling listeners up short with their captivating combination of punchy guitar solos, innovative synthesizers, and sardonic lyric writing. Over the next ten years they were forerunners of the evolving ‘new wave’ craze while maintaining their foothold in rock and roll. As a whole, they were a low key and private band, holding the media at arms’ length and creating an air of mystery about their deeper identity. Did they have a story to tell? Juskow believed they did.
Exaggerated personalities, terrible wigs, and an unorthodox plot make this hilarious film the breath of fresh air the genre needs. Narrated by a snowman a la Rankin/Bass, Turbocharge revolves around The Cars’ reputation for being robotic and boring during live shows, and their supposed determination to correct that perception with the fans. Running alongside that thread is the assertion that bassist Ben Orr was secretly plotting to wrest the control of the group from co-founder and songwriter Ric Ocasek. In an unexpected twist, Phil Collins is delightfully in the middle of it all.
The idea for Turbocharge actually materialized in the mid-80s during David Juskow’s college days. “I thought Heartbeat City was the greatest album I had ever heard in my life, and ‘You Might Think’ – the song itself – just completely spoke to me. I went backwards from there and started worshipping all of their stuff. [Keyboard player] Greg Hawkes’ influence in that stuff really worked for me and that’s why I really liked them. They just had such interesting melodies and electronic keyboards. And then I was just obsessed with everything they did.”
Lightning hit in the summer of 1985. “I remember exactly where I was during Live Aid. I was at this party in Rochester, New York, and I was waiting and waiting for The Cars to come on, and then they get cut off by Phil Collins! And I was like, ‘What?! How could you do that to my boys?!’”
“Being a huge fan of The Cars at that time I was so angry that they got shafted. Unbelievable. It turned to comedy in my mind. I was like, ‘Someday I’m going to depict that!’”
Two decades later, the time had come. The twentieth anniversary of Live Aid unearthed Juskow’s earlier grudge over the Phil Collins fiasco, and that, coupled with his disgust over the Def Leppard movie, prompted him to approach good friend and multi-talented industry veteran Memo Salazar. “I said to him, ‘Let’s just do this. It will be stupid, but it will be brilliant… in a way (laughs).’”
Memo said he might do it if Juskow wrote the script, and so it was on. David Juskow spent the next several months researching The Cars’ history, confirming things he already knew and then going deeper. And the further he dug, the funnier it became. It was the little oddities in the band’s journey that propelled everything forward with the movie.
Not only that, but the band’s public personas were ripe for humorous distortion. Drummer David Robinson, the consummate ladies’ man – you just had to have that character brought out. And Ric’s exaggerated awe of anyone who does anything ultra-creative, lead guitarist Elliot Easton’s stony seriousness that was really hiding a sharp wit, and the sweet-faced keyboard player, Greg Hawkes, who must have been hiding a side of snark behind that smile.
Laughing, David Juskow says, “You couldn’t even make a serious biography about these guys. It would have to be hilarious. They are a true rock and roll band who are a bunch of nerds, and I knew I must tell this story in a nerdy way… and yet we all know they rock.”
David Juskow takes an obvious amount of creative license, but many of his conjectural elements are a weighty mix of fact and thoughtful contemplation. He fleshes out underlying fan controversies, like the question about why Ben didn’t sing more. Wasn’t he ambitious? Juskow speculated about what might have been bubbling up in Ben. “It’s weird. He clearly has a better singing voice. He’s clearly more attractive. And in my mind I’m saying, ‘what’s going on behind the scenes? Why don’t I do a movie just saying how angry this guy is? He doesn’t have any songwriting talent so he gets screwed.’”
“Everybody takes liberties for drama purposes,” Juskow explains. “What would you have if you didn’t have a fun antagonist? C’mon, you need someone to get mad about Andy Warhol: ‘You hired this guy? Are you kidding me?’”
And there’s the difference: Juskow’s forays into embellishment are not designed to evoke emotion with the cookie-cutter ‘climb to fame’ struggles of the typical rockumentary… they’re just damn funny.
The cast is largely made up from David Juskow’s comedy family and ‘friends of friends,’ including Kevin Kash, Rachel Feinstein, Jonathan Katz, H. John Benjamin, John Samuel Jordan, David Engel, Tom Shillue, and Dave Attell, with Juskow as Ric Ocasek. The soundtrack includes music from Eric Barao, The Cautions, Frank Stallone, and a couple of Cars-flavored tunes written by Juskow, himself.
The film originally opened in 2008 with a few private screenings in the New York area, but Juskow didn’t pursue much more exposure than that. It sat on a shelf for ten years, until longtime Cars fan David Curry convinced Juskow to dust it off and share it for review on an episode of Night Thoughts: The Cars Podcast. Curry and his co-host were electrified by the movie, recognizing it as a hilarious and wonderful tribute to The Cars, and they strongly encouraged Juskow to reconsider releasing it to the rest of the world.
And that brings us up to today. How can you get your eyes on this ground-breaking biopic? The film is not out there for public viewing, but it can be – with your help. Juskow has been in meetings with Netflix; they are willing to pick it up if there’s enough interest. So let’s raise a ruckus! Simply go to https://help.netflix.com/en/titlerequest?ui_action=title-suggestion-quicklinks, type Turbocharge: The Unauthorized Story of The Cars in the title suggestion box, and click submit. You only have to do this once to make your voice heard, and you don’t even have to have a Netflix account. Let’s get these good times rolling!