Friday, March 24, 2017
BLAXPLOITATION MONTH: Car Wash (1976)
Car Wash” hit theaters in 1976, the box office receipts were nothing to be impressed by. Meanwhile, the title song went on to become one of the most iconic songs of the decade. That hit single made the soundtrack album a best seller. “Car Wash: The Song” is still a well known cultural touchstone, frequently referenced in other movies and shows. Eventually, the movie the song spawned from would develop a cult following, even if never had a chance of reaching the theme song's level of success.
The film takes place over the course of one day at the DeLuxe Car Wash, a fairly busy business nestled in the middle of Los Angeles. As the day goes by, the employees attempt to pass the time. Dwayne has recently become Abdullah, a Black Muslim all too aware of the racial constraints all around him. T.C hopes to win concert tickets from a radio call-in contest and convince the pretty waitress who works across the street to go on a date with him. Lonnie, who recently got out of prison, is trying to get a pay raise from his thrifty boss, in order to help take care of his wife and kids. These are just some of the scenes that play out inside the tiny location.
Batman and Robin” made him a target for nerd scorn, “Car Wash” is a slice of life story. There's no overreaching narrative or serious drive to the plot. The story is rooted to one location, so the script doesn't leap around any. Instead, we watch ordinary people simply go about their day. A handful of moments rise to the top as especially successful at this. Early on, a weary street walker abandons her cab fare. She spends the rest of the day hiding out in the car wash's bathroom, washing up, changing her clothes, and mostly avoiding her unpleasant profession. T.C.'s attempt to woo the waitress, who is mostly uninterested in him, play out as the kid singing songs from the juke box and showing up in a tux. T.C is also an artist and hopes to launch a comic book starring a black superhero he's created, called the Fly. Little moments like this, observing the character's failures and hopes, are when “Car Wash” is at its best.
“Car Wash” frequently veers towards the comedic. Two iconic comics stop by for broad cameos. George Carlin appears as the cab driver, who rambles in an amusingly Carlin-esque manner. He pops into the movie from time to time to irritate the other characters. Richard Pryor gets a big spot on the DVD case but only appears in one scene. He plays Papa Rich, a phony celebrity preacher, who stops by the car wash and delivers some goofy dialogue. The car wash patrons are frequent sources of comedy in the film. One man is in a full body cast, wrapped up like a mummy. Another is a rich woman whose sick son just vomited on the outside of the car. Yet another is an eccentric European man, suspected of being a mad bomber threatening the city. How that sequence plays out is especially broad. Yet the smaller moments emerge as my favorite bits of comedy. Like one co-worker playing a prank on another, involving hot sauce. Or Hippo, a rotund worker, awkwardly hitting on the off-the-clock prostitute.
The movie's soundtrack is also the soundtrack to the character's day, as their radio plays out throughout the movie. Yeah, the songs are pretty great, especially a surprise appearance from the Pointer Sisters. “Car Wash” is a textbook definition of a hang-out movie, the audience spending time with a cast of eccentrics as they go about their day. The cast is solid but not all the characters are well developed, making some of the car wash employees thinner sketches than others. The movie is never quite as funny or poignant as it sets out to be, though its generally more successful at the latter than the former. However, “Car Wash” is still an interesting film. And, if nothing else, it features one of the best afros in the history of cinema. [7/10]
[THE BLAXPLOITATION CHECKLIST: 6 outta 12]
[X] Afros or Sideburns
 Brothels or Pimps
[X] Churches or Pastors
[X] Funky Soundtrack
[X] Homophobic Caricatures
[X] Inner-City Setting
 Night Club Act
 Plot Involving Drugs or Organized Crime
 Racist Authority Figures
 Sticking It to the Man
 Sweet Love Makin'
[X] Use of Street Slang