Kurt Russell portrays a devious car salesman working for affable but monumentally unsuccessful used car dealer Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden). Luke's principal rival, located directly across the street, is his more prosperous brother, Roy L. Fuchs (also played by Warden), who is scheming to take over Luke's lot.
The movie was directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Zemeckis and his long-time writing partner Bob Gale with Steven Spielberg and John Milius as executive producers. The original music score was composed by Patrick Williams.
Filmed primarily in Mesa, Arizona, the movie was released on July 11, 1980. Although not a box-office success at the time, it has since developed cult film status due to its dark, cynical humor and the Zemeckis style. It is also marketed with the tagline "Like new, great looking and fully loaded with laughs."
Rudy Russo (Kurt Russell) is a young and cunning used car salesman with aspirations of running for senate. He works at the struggling New Deal used car lot owned by the elderly Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden), who agrees to help invest $10,000 in Rudy's campaign if he promises to keep the business alive. Meanwhile, across the street, Luke's younger brother Roy L. Fuchs (also played by Warden) is desperate to keep his used car lot from being demolished and replaced by a proposed freeway exit. Wanting to collect life insurance money and New Deal from Luke, Roy hires his mechanic, ex-demolition derby driver Mickey (Michael Talbott), to recklessly drive Luke's 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air around the block with Luke in the passenger's seat. After the Bel Air crashes back into the lot, Luke dies of a heart attack, but leaves Rudy with evidence that Roy staged the "accident". In an attempt to prevent Roy from gaining any inheritance, Rudy has his superstitious co-worker Jeff (Gerrit Graham) and mechanic Jim (Frank McRae) help him bury Luke in the lot's backyard in an Edsel that was once New Deal's sign ornament. They explain to Roy that Luke went on a vacation to Miami.
The next night, Rudy and his friends make an illegal live broadcast of their commercial in the middle of a football game, but it goes awry when Jeff finds out the car on display is red (which he believes is bad luck) and female model Margaret (Cheryl Rixon) has her dress stuck on the hood ornament - which rips and exposes her when the hood is popped open. The commercial results in New Deal receiving a massive number of customers the next day. In one deal, Jeff cons a family into buying a station wagon by having the lot's mascot dog Toby fake being run over during a test drive. While Roy lures customers in his lot by hiring a circus animal service, Rudy counters with a live stripper show. Luke's daughter Barbara Jane (Deborah Harmon) visits the lot in hopes of reuniting with him after more than ten years, but Rudy conceals the truth about her father by taking her out on a date, which inadvertently convinces her to stay in town for a while.
Rudy's gang then broadcasts another commercial in the middle of Jimmy Carter's presidential address, destroying some of Roy's used cars in the process. In retaliation, Roy storms into New Deal and attacks Jeff before discovering Luke's resting place. Roy brings the police to New Deal to dig through the backyard the next day, but Jim had taken the Edsel out of the pit, and he rigs it to crash on a power transformer - making everyone believe Luke was killed in the fiery accident. Roy believes he now has possession of New Deal, but Rudy points out that Barbara is effectively the new owner. Barbara, however, discovers the fiasco over her father's death and fires Rudy. As a final means of shutting down New Deal, Roy has his connections in a local TV station alter Barbara's commercial to imply that she has a mile of cars; he then pushes a trumped-up charge of false advertising.
Meanwhile, Rudy's luck changes when he wins a bet on a football game, guaranteeing him enough money for his campaign. But once he discovers that Barbara has been sent to court for false advertising, Rudy rushes in and convinces her to tell the court she actually does have a mile of cars. However, in order to avoid a charge of perjury, she must prove it in front of Judge H. H. Harrison (Al Lewis) by having over 250 cars on her lot by 2:45 p.m. Rudy spends his senate investment on buying 250 cars from Mexican dealer Manuel (Alfonso Arau) and having 250 student drivers deliver them to New Deal in less than two hours. After overcoming Roy's attempt at disrupting the resulting convoy and Jeff's superstition of driving a red car, the drivers arrive in time, with the total measurements just long enough to equal a mile; thus saving the used car lot. Rudy and Barbara are then informed by Roy's former attorney Sam Slaton (Joe Flaherty) that once the freeway ramp across the street is constructed New Deal will become the largest dealership in town.
- Kurt Russell as Rudy Russo
- Jack Warden as Roy L. Fuchs and Luke Fuchs
- Gerrit Graham as Jeff
- Frank McRae as Jim
- Deborah Harmon as Barbara Jane Fuchs
- Joe Flaherty as Sam Slaton
- David L. Lander as Freddie Paris
- Michael McKean as Eddie Winslow
- Michael Talbott as Mickey
- Harry Northup as Carmine
- Alfonso Arau as Manuel
- Cheryl Rixon as Margaret
- Al Lewis as Judge H. H. Harrison
- Woodrow Parfrey as Mr. Chartner
- Dub Taylor as Tucker
- Betty Thomas as Bunny