Dollar leaves Chase needing shtick shift

By Published on .

Advertiser: Dollar Rent a Car
Agency: Earle Palmer Brown, Philadelphia
Ad Review rating: 1 star

The scene is an airport, where Chevy Chase, in the role of a businessman greeting three Japanese clients, has just rented a car.

"Bonjour!" he says. Then, bowing in greeting, he bangs his forehead against a client's forehead. (Of course it's hilarious, but try to catch your breath. There's more.)

"No matter how you do business," a voice-over narrates during the slapstick action, "it makes sense to rent from Dollar. Dollar is right at the airport, with low rates, so you can always afford to entertain your clients in style."

Meanwhile, in the accompanying business-entertainment comedy montage, Chase lets a piece of octopus slip from between his chopsticks, trips over three golf bags and downs one of the visitors with an errant tee shot. (Gosh, who saw that coming?)

This commercial from Earle Palmer Brown, Philadelphia, is an amazing artifact--because it proves that, despite all previous evidence to the contrary, Chase's talk show on Fox wasn't a low point, after all.

It surely seemed at the time that there could be no greater career indignity than the "Chevy Chase Show." Panelist on a "Gong Show" revival? That wouldn't be worse. Infomercial on a home prostate exam? No, that wouldn't be worse, either. Chase was so irredeemably awful on his talk show that even a personal scandal--let's say a palimony suit from a Cub Scout--might have resulted in a net image enhancement. For a guy who had made a career of falling on his face, trying to be a talk show host was the biggest pratfall of all. And it seemed he had hit rock bottom.

But, lo and behold, he has found a crevasse.

Between the golf spot and a second one in which Chase is trying to impress a young babe, it's simply hard to describe how gigantically, soaringly, thunderingly, crashingly, dismally stupid this campaign is. The only question is what's the worst element. Is it Chase's performance, a bad parody of himself? Is it the writing, which is nothing short of embarrassing? Or is it the concept itself, which for some unfathomable reason finds his clumsy, clueless-oaf character to be a relevant presenter for business customers?

"Chevy Chase is an ideal match for our industry because he brings a logical connection to the type of character he plays and the obvious need for that character to rent a car for vacation or business," a Dollar Rent a Car executive said, inscrutably, in a news release. "Of course, for any advertising to be `surf-proof,' you have to have a delicate blend of entertainment and persuasion, and Chevy gives us the magical, artistic qualities to do just that."

No he doesn't. He gives an indelicate blend of imbecility and lack of self-respect. Tripping over golf clubs isn't funny. Bumping heads with a Japanese businessman isn't funny. Squirting fountain pen ink in the face of a car-rental agent isn't funny. It's just annoying, pointless and pathetic in the extreme.

Surf-proof? This is a waxed board on a tubular breaker. The advertiser's best hope, in fact, is that viewers will flee so quickly, they won't remember which company to blame.

The tragedy isn't just that a '70s icon of cutting-edge comedy has become Tim Conway. The tragedy is he's on his way to becoming Charles Nelson Reilly. Maybe his latest "Vacation" movie will mitigate the humiliation, but if so, it will be a day late, and a Dollar short.

Copyright March 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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