This sort of day-in-the-life-of formula film is a regular commodity. We’ve been treated to a few about record stores, and discotheques, as well as more serious variations that became serialized television. The old film FM became WKRP in Cincinnati, Smokey and the Bandit ended up getting transformed into The Dukes of Hazard and M.A.S.H. became, of course, M.A.S.H. making some of these films seem more like pilots. Car Wash had all the potential of being serialized, but for some reason didn’t end up on the small screen. There were plenty of characters, several romantic possibilities that weren’t quite played out, a bit of a criminal aspect, and at least one gorgeous woman (Lauren Jones) who kept getting undressed and redressed for the camera.
With Richard Pryor, George Carlin and Prof. Corey Irwin all providing seasoning for the bare bones in fatuous manner. The kaleidoscope of moves keeps you engaged. Maybe bare bones isn’t really fair, while much of the film seems like ad-lib playtime in a locker room, where the car wash employees get ready. There are some intricacies that we’re expected to sort of follow along. A few of the members of the crew are larger than life: a recently converted Muslim is moody and somewhat menacing, the young, sole white kid, son of the owner, wears a Mao t-shirt and speaks of revolution, while Antonio Fargas (forever Huggy Bear from the old Starsky and Hutch) is one of the most positive and powerful portrayals of an openly gay man I can remember seeing up to that era and quite a bit beyond.
The film, seemingly based around an old disco track of the same name, never gets too silly, unlike many of the style who turn on the gobbledygook faucet full blast soon after realizing they’ve got little story to lean on. There is also little given over to violence. There is an attempted robbery, but the logic of the brother in charge of the money leads the perpetrator to giving up on the idea and into a self-examination that presumably brings everyone some kind of hope.
Most of the yucks aren’t too impressive, and dog poop and a vomiting child feature, but maybe the producers wanted something a bit more respectable and decided not to drop cages of live chickens, or have wet t-shirt contests undermining the over all camaraderie and labor message. Even the owner, Mr. B isn’t heartless or just a punching bag for money-grubbing scum jokes. He doesn’t hit on his secretary nor abuse his employees wantonly, in fact, they kind of get away with murder. I was saddened that while The Pointer Sisters appear in the film, there’s not much for them to do but stand around. Also a major lesson anyone who works for living knows is you never leave your lunch unattended . . . you just don’t do that.
Is Car Wash worth the 3.99+tax you’ll pay to see it? And does it qualify as a “Black interest” film as it is billed on the selection map? These are somewhat tougher questions to answer. It isn’t as ridiculously flippant a film as I was expecting. On the other hand, it’s also not particularly interesting as a race-relations piece. It’s a got some jive in it to be sure, and the car wash brotherhood definitely have a stylized “black” movie interaction that may never have existed anywhere in the real world, but it’s a bit like thinking about the “all women” town in Sin City and imagining that it somehow represents emancipated women (as they strut around in BDSM gear and four inch heels, would some women probably do that, yes, does it mean that such man-fantasy is woman-empowering? No.)
If I had written Car Wash I’d have probably wanted to include a bit more about the plight of American labor, and the unfairness of the playing field we’re all expected to compete on to achieve our hopes and dreams. At no point does an frazzled wife arrive with screaming kids who need dentist work, and at no point is one of our friends lying under his car trying to fix the failing brakes because he can’t afford the job until, well, maybe next month.
Well, perhaps I’m not very funny!