Yesterday evening, I was where I usually wind up after hours: On my couch, watching movie that I’ve already seen before. The film of choice was Bruce Almighty. It’s fine, has a few funny points, but importantly, doesn’t demand your full attention. I did, however, notice whoever decided the main character’s “crappy” car should be a 1976 Datsun 280Z sure screwed up royally.
The movie, if you haven’t seen it, is a 2003 fantasy comedy that stars Jim Carrey. It’s about a down-on-his-luck television reporter named Bruce Nolan who can’t seem to catch a break. Rather than looking at his own life and wondering what he could do to alter the course of things, he instead places the blame on everyone else, including God (who turns out to be Morgan Freeman).
After a strange turn of events, Nolan meets God and challenges him by saying that he could do a better job. So, God calls his bluff and Nolan ends up with God’s powers and can use them at his own discretion. In that sense, the movie has a pretty traditional rags-to-riches storyline.
It’s fitting that the Bruce Almighty’s writers would give Nolan a shitty car to start out with. He’s unhappy about his life, nothing is going the way he wants and he has low self-esteem. Let’s get him a fitting, shitty car, too! But that shitty car turns out to be a 1976 Datsun 280Z, a car that is very much not shitty. The person who made this decision should have boogers flicked at them for the next month.
(By the way, that Datsun was for sale on Bonhams in 2005. The listing says that the stunt car had a Chevy 350 V8 and an automatic transmission.)
A Datsun 280Z isn’t the kind of car that you simply stick in a movie with the sole purpose of being shitty. The cars that fulfill that role are meant to be automotive metaphors for the character’s life, like the shitbox Dodge Neon in She’s Out of My League. A 280Z cannot (and should not) be the butt of a joke or an accompanying accessory to bumbling mediocrity. Okay, okay, the 280Z is probably on the bottom end of the Z totem pole, but still. It’s too good for that.
Yes, in 2003, it would be a 30-year-old car, befitting someone like Nolan because he wouldn’t be buying new. But out of all the cars on the used lot that day, I find it highly unbelievable that a 2+2 Japanese sports coupe with 1960s styling is the car a struggling TV anchor living in Buffalo, New York, would have driven away in. Even if it’s an automatic.
I suppose you could also argue that the 280Z might be a hand-me-down from a relative or friend. Perhaps it was free. But that would be something you’d definitely want to address in the film, as accepting a free car does contribute to important character backstory. It says something about them and their situation.
Nolan, as far as I could tell, doesn’t give a shit about the Datsun. It is his get-around car. He slams its doors, leans up against it, bangs about and throws tantrums inside it. Nothing about his body language suggests that he cares for or even likes his 280Z very much.
That then rules out the possibility that it was a car he’d purchased perhaps in high school or college and then just held onto. Buying an impractical sports car is a very deliberate enthusiast’s move, usually done if the car in question is actually likable, and there is no deliberation in the way he treated that car. Only carelessness and distaste. It’s a downright crime.
The whole point of the Datsun, of course, is to contrast pre-God powers Nolan with post-God powers Nolan. To really drive that point home, Nolan accidentally crashes the Datsun the night before, smashing up its pretty face. Oh, and it had gotten beat up a little bit by thugs previously as well. All told, the Datsun (and Nolan by extension) have hit rock bottom by the time he meets God.
As soon as Nolan is blessed with God’s powers, his confidence picks up, he dresses better and he upgrades the poor little Z to a Saleen S7. Perhaps someone in the writer’s room thought that a Saleen S7 was peak-2003 godly supercar, but today it’s just another thing to chortle over, all things considered.
Weirdly, it also seems like Nolan starts the S7 in second gear.
Anyway, the Datsun 280Z was absolutely wasted in this silly movie. They should have gone with something else. Like anything else. The 280Z is a car you aspire to, not one you crash and then replace with a Saleen S7.