Top positive review
75 people found this helpful
Look beneath the surface; it's actually a pretty good film
on May 11, 2003
I first saw this film when it came out in the theatres... I was ten (you do the math...) and it was one of those transgressive '70s comedies that all the kids in 5th and 6th grade were psyched to sneak into the theatres to see, all filled with sex and drugs and cuss words. I rented it recently because I was in the mood for some '70s exploit-o-kitsch, and was quite surprised at how much depth the film actually had. Written by future Hollywood honcho Joel Schumacher, "Car Wash" is a tragedy that masquerades as a farce, capturing the antics of a dozen clownish, stereotypical losers during a single day spent scrubbing cars at a grimy Los Angeles car wash. They lighten their work day through pranks, daydreams, slapstick and even a little bit of sex, drugs and sweet, funky music. (The theme song by Rose Royce remains one of the best disco-era pop tunes.) Behind the comedic facade, though, lies an earnest exploration of the sadness of a truly dead-end job, and by the film's end, its true heroes are revealed as Abdullah (Bill Duke), an angry, humorless African-American Muslim who is the butt of everyone else's jokes, and Lonnie, the underpaid, ex-con foreman of the gang, who are the only ones facing up to the harshness of their economic situation. They're just trying to hang on to their dignity and not slip through the cracks, while all the other guys have pretty much given up, or just don't care. Admittedly, there's an whiff of condescention to the script, and a film-schoolish formalism to its dualistic structure, but there's also a surprisingly sincere, substantive human element. What seems like an "Saturday Night Live-" ish, sketch-based light comedy is actually kind of a painful film at heart. Interestingly enough, the taboo titillations that drew us kiddies to the film back in the day are actually the parts that don't hold up -- George Carlin's episodic gag routines as a foul-mouthed cabbie tracking down a prostitute who skipped out on her fare all fall flat: there's no there there. (Richard Pryor, however, turns in a nice, succinct cameo as a flashy, pimp-suited televangelist who takes his stretch limo through the carwash, and spars with Abdullah about his supposed obligations to the community...) At any rate, the swearing and crass sex gags have largely lost their power to shock (what sounded so nasty back in '76 seems pretty tame now, in comparison to what you can see on TV or even in PG films...) but the film itself is still worth checking out. It captures a certain slice of the 'Seventies, a low-key, unassuming grittiness that didn't rely on the shock tactics of the era's crime films and yet gives us a pretty honest picture of what folks were going through back in a decade of recession, disillusionment and indulgence.