By Richard Winters
My Rating: 2 out of 10
4-Word Review: Having fun washing cars.
A look at the day-in-the-life of those working at a L.A. car wash. Mr. B (Sully Boyar) is the owner and frets about his employees not working hard enough, but too afraid to fire any of them for fear of retribution. Behind-the-scenes he’s having an affair with his young, but plain-looking receptionist Marsha (Melanie Mayron) who in-turn is more interested in a man with money and gets excited when a well-dressed one asks her out on a date. Lonnie (Ivan Dixon) is a recently released convict working at the car wash and raising a family, but finding it hard on the salary he’s given, which Mr. B refuses to raise. Duane (Bill Duke) is a Black Muslim revolutionary now going by the name Abdullah who preaches power to the people while Mr. B’s son Irwin (Richard Brestoff) who has just graduated from college and groomed to take over the business is more interested in being a part of the working class instead.
In many ways this could be described as a precursor to Clerks with a cinema vertite feel that captures the daily experience of working a mundane job quite well. The humor is restrained and never goes over-the-top making the dialogue between the cast and the pranks they play on each other believable and like something that could play out in just about any car wash or blue collar job across the country. The disco soundtrack, which includes the iconic title tune by Rose Royce, which is actually better than the movie itself, helps add to the 70’s ambiance as well as the fact that it was filmed on-location at an actual car wash, which has since been demolished, at 610 South Rampart Boulevard in Los Angeles.
Unfortunately there’s not enough plot, or character development to hold it all together. The loosely structured approach, which initially comes off as fresh and original, eventually grows tiring without any type of genuine drama or story line to keep it compelling. There are also too many amusing bits that could’ve been strung out longer and even enhanced, but instead end up getting dropped almost as quickly as they’re introduced.
The cast is filled with too many characters and it’s hard to keep track of them, or understanding why they’re needed. At most car washes I’ve been there’s usually only one employee, or maybe two at the most, to wax the car, or rub it down after it’s been through the wash, but here it takes literally 5 or 6 guys to work on one car, which seems ridiculous. Cutting the cast down would’ve helped and having it centered around one main person instead of doing the ensemble thing would’ve been even better.
The appearances of George Carlin and Richard Pryor add very little and their screen times are so brief I was surprised they even accepted the parts. I was also disappointed that Lorraine Gary’s part was so short too. She’s best known for playing Roy Schieder’s wife in the Jaws films. Here she plays a stuck-up Beverly Hills housewife who’s more concerned about how her car looks than in the fact that her young son is sick. Her haughty attitude creates a delightful culture clash and I really thought she could’ve added some funny friction had she stayed in it all the way through and I really thought she would especially after her son throws up in the car just as they are leaving the lot making me think she would’ve simply backed-up the car and had them clean out the vehicle’s interior, since they had just done the exterior seconds before, but instead she apparently just goes on driving, but who would do that?
There are also potentially interesting story lines that never get adequately explored. The affair between Mr. B. and Marsha was one of them, but another had to do with a ‘pop bottle bomber’ that was terrorizing the city. At one point the crew thinks it’s an old man (Irwin Corey) that comes into the place, but find that’s a false alarm, but it would’ve been exciting had they eventually come into contact with the real one, which could’ve added intriguing dynamics both with the characters and plot.
Originally this was to be a musical, but for whatever reason Universal nixed that idea and decided to turn it into a plain-old comedy instead. I’m not necessarily a fan of musicals, but in this case the songs and dance numbers would’ve helped tie everything together as the script is otherwise too unfocused to remain captivating past the first 30 minutes.
My Rating: 2 out of 10
Released: September 3, 1976
Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes
Director: Michael Schultz
Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube