blog about bars, we ask people about churches, and a leading gripe we hear is that churches and clergy are money grubbing. I don’t think that’s actually true about most churches, but it’s sadly true of some, and that makes greedy preachers a favorite comedy trope.
Car Wash is an ensemble comedy, following the employees of a, well, car wash in a neighborhood that’s not the best in Los Angeles. Music legends (Otis Day, the Pointer Sisters) join with TV personalities (Starsky and Hutch’s Huggy Bear, Antonio Fargas; original Saturday Night Live cast member Garrett Morris; Hogan’s Heroes’ Ivan Dixon), and comedians (George Carlin, Professor Irwin Corey) round out the cast. Richard Pryor’s Daddy Rich is surprisingly likable in spite of his obvious character flaws.
DJs at a local radio station form a Greek Chorus for the mostly comic episodic action of the film. (The station plays such public service announcements as “Cancer cures smoking.”) Before Daddy Rich makes his appearance, we hear about his upcoming services on the radio and see his picture on a Wall of Fame inside the car wash, between JFK and MLK Jr.
His coworker says, “It’s Daddy Rich! Don’t you know him from TV?”
Someone asks the Reverend his secret, and he responds, “The secret is there are no secrets! Believe in the Lord and believe in yourself! And most of all, believe in that federal green because money talks and [bovine excrement] walks!”
Some of the workers offer him money (though he obviously has much more than they do) and he gladly accepts it, “I take what is given to me.”
Almost everyone at the car wash seems to admire Daddy Rich, except for a Black Muslim named Abdullah (formerly Duane, played by Bill Duke). When Abdullah challenges Daddy Rich, they have this interchange:
Rev.: “Guess you don’t believe in my church - the Church of the Divine Economic Spirituality? You don’t believe in God?”
Abdullah: “I don’t believe in your god.”
The Reverend: “My God’s done alright by me. Why don’t you climb on board, and for a small fee, I’ll set you free, nearer thy God to thee.”
Abdullah calls the Reverend a pimp and they nearly come to blows, but Rich refrains -- as he is “a Christian man.” He passes around an offering plate, and then leaves, waving from the limo sunroof.
Fletch Lives, the Reverend Jimmy Lee Farnsworth (R. Lee Ermey) is nearly as popular in his small southern town as Daddy Rich was at the carwash. (The film is a sequel to the 1985 film, Fletch, which was also directed by Michael Ritchie; both star Chevy Chase as the title character.)
Fletch, a Los Angeles reporter, inherits a Louisiana mansion and moves there to start a new life. Representatives of Farnsworth Ministries soon approach him to buy the property. (Fletch mentions that his aunt almost left it to the ministry. He says, “the Reverend must have touched her, but not deeply enough.”)
Farnsworth Ministries doesn’t just have a church. They also have Bible Land, an amusement park that Rev. Farnsworth claims is “the most important event since the crucifixion.” It has rides, of course, including a hell ride (which we see treated by visitors as a Tunnel of Love) and a Noah’s Ark ride. (The Flood scheduled every ten minutes looks remarkably like floods I’ve seen on the Universal Studio Tour).
On his nightly television program, which is syndicated throughout the country, the Reverend Farnsworth is not at all shy about asking for money. He also provides a show, with tap dancers and a performing monkey, Mr. Coco.
We eventually learn the Reverend was once a used car salesman and convicted embezzler before he went into ministry.
Fletch doesn’t think much of Farnsworth’s ministry. ( “I believe in a God that doesn’t need heavy financing.“) But Fletch himself doesn’t come off too well in the film. Soon after arriving at his plantation, he sleeps with his attractive realtor. While he sleeps, the woman is murdered. When Fletch discovers she’s dead, he smirks at the camera and makes a cheap joke. Throughout the rest of film, he jokes about her death being a result of his sexual prowess. Nothing Farnsworth does is that tacky.