Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Car Wash (1976)

Best known for the disco theme song by Rose Royce that became a No. 1 pop hit, Car Wash is a silly ensemble comedy about the goings-on among the African-American workers at a Los Angeles car wash, so the focus is on cartoonish jive talk, contrived slapstick, and meandering musical sequences. A steady stream of catchy funk/disco tunes fills the soundtrack (Motown Records hitmaker Norman Whitfield did the music), and the picture is so overstuffed with characters that things move along at a steady clip, but the storyline runs the gamut from juvenile to pedestrian. As written by Joel Schumacher, who later became the A-list director of such glossy piffles as The Lost Boys (1987), Car Wash tries to generate gags from such unlikely sources as a would-be revolutionary (Bill Duke) spewing militant aphorisms; a sassy drag queen (Antonio Fargas) exuding lascivious attitude; a disgruntled cab driver (George Carlin) trying to find the hooker who skipped out on a fare; and a fast-talking evangelist (Richard Pryor) strutting around with three female vocalists (the Pointer Sisters) literally singing his praises. This is the sort of movie in which the titular location functions as a conveyer belt for delivering one random character after another, which means the piece lacks anything resembling cohesion or dramatic drive. The script really shows its strain with idiotic recurring characters like the bitchy Beverly Hills mom (Lorraine Gary) whose son won’t stop puking, and the redneck car-wash worker (Jack Kehoe) who frets that he might have gotten VD. Car Wash has fleeting moments of interest, but whatever virtues the film has are overshadowed by groan-inducing moments like the scene in which characters argue about who has to clean dog excrement off the sidewalk. Sample dialogue: “Don’t gimme no lip, pick up the shit!”

Car Wash: LAME


Jamal said...

Loved "Car Wash"! Was always a favorite of mine and my friends.Not necessarily as a cult film either.Bill Duke, is great. The workers riffing insults on one another is fun to watch. The characters are just having fun and it shows. It's contagious. The unsung legend that is Ivan Dixon, is also great as that older ex-con who's seen and done more than most of the younger guys there.He knows how things can end when the "youngsters" can't see it. The music, is also terrific. The Rose Royce stuff will always linger. Richard Pryor could have been funnier sure, but it's fun to see 70's Pryor in just about any context. It has a really big cult following in the black and Latin communities where the multi-cultural dynamic plays a big part. In the end its just mindless entertainment trying to be a little less mindless. I certainly wouldn't call it LAME. At the very least FUNKY.

Movieman 65 said...

I couldn't agree more with Jamal. I first saw Car Wash at the theater with my father at age eleven. It was my first counter culture film. I've always enjoyed films that take place during a days time, but this film is also a very entertaining time capsule of the seventies. Ivan Dixon is excellent in this movie,I always felt that his performance was sadly overlooked. Great film.

squeak said...

I liked this film because it's just what I call a basic slice-of-life film of the '70s, in which a film just looks at daily life from its characters' point of view. This was future director/producer Bill Duke's film debut--and it's cool to see actor-turned-director Ivan Dixon in a latter-day role--he only directed too good films, Trouble Man and The Spook Who Sat By The Door, but continued to have a long career behind the camera as a TV director/producer also.

Anyway, the film is funny, with weird, offbeat characters, plus it's the only film I know that George Carlin and Richard Pryor, who came up in the same comedy scene, were in together, though they share no screen time. The theme song's always been a favorite of mine, and a lot of talented performers got their start in this film. It was also directed by a black director---can't recall his name at the moment, but he would go on to do Greased Lightning, starring Richard Pryor as one of the first black drag car racers, and The Last Dragon.