Deluxe Carwash is owned and operated by a man simply known as Mr. B (Sully Boyer), a frustrated middle-aged fellow who has to deal with the craziness of his workers, the stress of trying to stay in business, and wondering what the motives are of his seemingly slacker son Erwin (Richard Brestoff), who apparently wants to drop out of school and become a part of the working class by working at the car wash with the others. The employees of the car wash include Mr. B's self-conscious and lonely cashier, Marsha (Melanie Mayron); ex-con Lonnie (Ivan Dixon), who has a position of authority over the other workers; Earl (Leonard Jackson), who considers himself superior being, "The only nigger who doesn't get wet," since he's a dryer; T.C. (Franklin Ajaye), a young man determined to keep his estranged girlfriend, who appears to be waiting for a prince charming to sweep her off her feet; Floyd and Lloyd (Darrow Igus and DeWayne Jessie), a duo of would-be musical entertainers with dreams of show biz; Lindy (Antonio Fargas, future Huggy Bear), a transvestite; Hippo (James Spinks), a very large employee who has eyes for loitering prostitute Marleen; Geronimo (Ray Vitte), a Know-Nothing Know-It-All who offers romantic advice to Scruggs (Jack Kehoe), a cowboy-clad gas pumper, who worries over his wife after having a one-night stand with another woman; Goody and Chuco (Henry Kingi and Pepe Serna), a pair of mischievous knuckleheads; Justin (Leon Pinkney), a young man who wants to marry his girlfriend, who wants him to go back to college and make something out of himself; Snapper (Clarence Muse), an elderly man who shines patrons' shoes; Slide (Garrett Morris), a con-artist who ends up arrested for unpaid parking tickets; and Abdullah (Bill Duke), a recently-converted Black Muslim, who has an enormous chip on his shoulder, and appears bitter at the entire world.
Noted comedians George Carlin and Richard Pryor make brief appearances in the movie as well - Carlin as a taxi driver, who continually tries to track down his passenger (Marleen), who stiffed him on fare; Pryor as the pimpish Daddy Rich, a televangelist, who praises money more than his does God. The Pointer Sisters also appear as Daddy Rich's all-female entourage.
The movie itself wasn't necessarily a hit when it was first released, but it has definitely picked up a significant cult following over the years; people are probably more familiar with its theme song than they are the movie itself.
This movie provides examples of
- Advertised Extra:
- Richard Pryor, so much so in fact, that many posters and home video covers plaster him front and center as if he's the star of the movie, even though his appearance is really only one big scene.
- George Carlin to a lesser extent.
- Probably justified, given that both were really famous comedians at the time, whereas most of the movie's cast is pretty obscure.
- Ambiguously Gay: Lindy, as if being a transvestite wasn't enough to make you think that already.
- Amusing Injuries: A couple who stops by the car wash includes a man in a full body cast, who remains in the car while the others work on cleaning it; despite all of his dialogue being obscured by his bandages, it seems as if everybody can understand what he's saying irregardless.
- The Atoner: Lonnie, who's an ex-con, trying to lead a clean life, and provide for his two kids, while annoyed by the frequent check-ins by his parole officer.
- The Big Guy: Hippo.
- Butt-Monkey: Pretty much all of the characters in this movie take turns at being somebody else's butt monkey.
- Calling Your Nausea: An Alpha Bitch mother drives her convertible Mercedes-Benz into the car wash because her grade-school son puked on the side door. She wants the stuff washed off before the finish is damaged. The staff obliges, and soon has her car in pristine condition. After driving away, the boy says that he needs to hurl; the mother forbids him to ruin her paint job, so the poor kid vomits into her lap instead. Scratch one Halston dress.
- Do Not Call Me "Paul": Abdullah's birth name is Duane, and calling him such is his Berserk Button; he took the new name after converting to Islam.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Film critic Roger Ebert has likened this movie to M*A*S*H, and in a sense, there are a lot of similarities between the two, from Mr. B being an easily-flustered boss like Henry Blake, the employees of the car wash acting crazy to get through their long work days and troubling personal lives like the surgeons of the 4077th... the movie even ends with an oral roll call of the cast, much like M*A*S*H has done.
- Honking Arriving Car: One of Duane/Abdullah's unexplained absences from the titular car wash (that ultimately get him fired) is shown to involve, in part, one of his Black Muslim peers rolling up in a customized VW Bus and honking the horn to call him over.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: Erwin has dropped out of college, and wants to be a part of the working class, much to Mr. B's frustration.
- I Just Want to Be Special: A number of the employees would rather do something else with their lives than work at a car wash.
- Jerkass: Many of the employees behave like this, though it seems to be more of a way for them to relieve the stress they're going through in their lives. Abdullah is probably the biggest jerkass of them all.
- I Take Offense to That Last One: This exchange:Duane: Will you please get out of my face, you sorry-looking faggot.
Lindy: Who you calling "sorry-looking"?
- Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Geronimo thinks he's an expert on women, because he's been married, "Three and a half times," and continuously offers Scruggs advice as he worries about not hearing from his wife.
- Mad Bomber: T.C. and Hippo see one of their customers is a man who fits the description of a pop-bottle bomber, whom they just heard about on the radio, and read about in the paper; the man is even seen wandering around the car wash with a bottle in a paperbag, though it turns out he's just an eccentric guy, played by "Professor" Irwin Corey, who was carrying a bottle of his own urine to the doctor following a surgery he had two days prior.
- Meaningful Name: Hippo, considering he's the largest employee (both in height and girth) at the car wash.
- Monochrome Casting: Almost all of the employees at the car wash are black, with the exception of Goody - who is Native American, Chuco - Latino, and Scruggs, the Token White.
- Not So Above It All: Earl considers himself superior over the others, because he dries the cars, and therefore doesn't get wet like the others; they think otherwise, and give him a dose of Laser-Guided Karma. They rest a bottomless box of dog poop on the trunk of his convertible after he refuses to clean it up, and orders Goody and Chuco to clean it up.
- N-Word Privileges: Not surprising, considering this is a blaxploitation film.
- Pointy-Haired Boss: Mr. B.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Pretty much the entire staff of the car wash.
- Random Events Plot: The movie itself doesn't really have that much of a plot to speak of, just pretty much whatever goes on at the car wash, between the hi-jinks of the employees, to the interesting customers they have throughout the day.
- Running Gag:
- George Carlin as the taxi driver, continuously pulling into the car wash and asking people if they've seen, "A tall, blonde, black chick." Said tall, blonde, black chick was Marleen, who stiffed him on fare, but he also seems to border on Stalker with a Crush.
- Calvin, a boy who passes through on his skateboard throughout the day to razz everybody working there.
- T.C. racing to the payphone to win a contest on the radio. His first attempt fails when he can't find a dime for the phone, the second attempt fails because Marleen is using the phone, third time's the charm.
- The '70s
- Wholesome Crossdresser: Lindy.
- Those Two Guys:
- Floyd and Lloyd, known for strutting their stuff, and doing impersonations of their singing idols, such as James Brown.
- Goody and Chuco, for simply being a pair of knuckleheads.
- Lonnie and Abdullah are a variation of this; most of the others avoid Abdullah, because he's a Jerkass who runs his mouth off all the time, though Lonnie seems to understand his feelings, and tries to take him under his wing and be a mentor to him.