Carpenter to this day proclaims that this film was just a routine paycheck. He sells himself short, which is a classic pattern of true cinematic genius.
Keith Gordon stars as Arnie Cunningham, a picked on, nerdy high school kid who befriends a popular jock named Dennis, played very believably by future film director John Stockwell.
Rounding out the cast are Harry Dean Stanton in a very slick performance as a police detective and Alexandra Paul as Arnie’s soon to be love interest.
But how does Arnie get cool enough to date the hottest girl in the school? Well, after a day of getting his ass handed to him, he drives home with Dennis and sees her. Who? A piece of crap, rusted out ’58 Plymouth Fury. He immediately falls in love with the real star of the film — Christine.
At first she’s ugly, worn out and dilapidated, much like Arnie, and he sees her as a project. So he decides to fix her up at Robert Prosky’s garage. Prosky steals every scene as Darnell, who has the best line in the film-”You can’t polish a turd.” But Arnie does polish this turd.
Christine plays well with with the angle of the loner becoming a force to be reckoned with. And this is what Carpenter excels at. His take is pronounced, accurate and even emotional. Arnie is obsessed with the car which magically fixes itself. And has an odometer that goes backwards. Cracks in the windshield reduce in size. Stockwell and Paul’s characters see the change in Arnie and they attribute it to Christine.
How can one be jealous of a car? Well, Carpenter is all over this film. The cinematography by Donald Morgan is exceptional, especially when Christine is barreling after teenagers. All the stars give very real performances and the car itself is basically what makes the film work, and Carpenter shows her off like the very best kind of car porn.
Arnie does become an asshole a bit too fast for my liking, though, and we want to really relate to this kid but by the end you kinda want Christine to run him over too. Arnie is lucky to have friends that care about him but he is too obsessed to notice. It ends in a very cool Christine versus tractor showdown. Please observe the nuances of Christine. Many Carpenter fans are polarized by this film. It isn’t scary enough. The ending sucked. Blah blah blah.
Take my word — Christine is smooth, fast and terrible. Hell hath no fury like a Plymouth scorned.