Car 54, Where Are You?

1994, Movie, PG-13, 89 mins

Review

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Following in the footsteps of 60s-sitcoms-turned-movies THE ADDAMS FAMILY and THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES comes CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU?, a forgettable big-screen adaptation of the short-lived, fondly remembered television series.

The "top cop" and co-pilot of Car 54 is Officer Gunther Toody (David Johansen, known to music fans as Buster Poindexter), a pleasant but ineffectual policeman who is more concerned with munching donuts and scamming free pizza than with arresting the purse snatchers and prostitutes on his beat. After his long-time partner Leo Schnauzer (Al Lewis) retires, Toody is paired with the police academy's brightest star, rookie Francis Muldoon (John C. McGinley, in the role originated by Fred Gwynne). Muldoon is an ultra-conservative who enforces the letter of the law, handing out tickets to a blind man for jaywalking and to an old woman for spitting on the sidewalk. In an attempt to get his partner to lighten up, Toody sets him up with badge fetishist Velma Velour (Fran Drescher). Though Muldoon is initially girl-shy, Velour takes a shine to the big lug; that night, Officer Muldoon loses his heart--and his virginity--in the back of a horse-drawn carriage in Central Park.

Meanwhile, back at the station, the 53rd precinct has been ordered to protect a federal witness, Herbert Horst (Jeremy Piven), the only material witness in the case against big-time mob boss Don "Pretty Boy" Monti (Daniel Baldwin). After several of Monti's attempts to kill Horst fail, the witness is hidden in the trunk of Toody's car, where he and Muldoon can keep track of him; Toody forgets to let the witness out, though, and the car--with Horst still in the trunk--is stolen in the night. With his job in jeopardy, Toody disguises himself as renowned hit man "Detroit Dan" in order to infiltrate Don Monti's hideout. Toody tracks Horst to Coney Island, and with the help of his lovestruck partner recovers the witness and arrests Don Monti and his henchmen.

Though its run from 1961 to 1963 lasted just sixty episodes, the series "Car 54, Where Are You?" enjoyed something of a resurgence in the late 1980s when it was picked up by cable television's Nickelodeon channel. During its original run, the series was known for its large cast of goofy cops, their equally goofy wives, and the oddball criminals they encountered. The movie's cast, while not as large, is noteworthy for its unlikely roster of players: in addition to Lewis and Nipsey Russell (who also reprises his role from the television series) there are cameos by singer Mojo Nixon, one-hit rap wonder Tone Loc ("Wild Thing"), punk dinosaurs The Ramones, and hipster illusionists Penn and Teller.

Bizarre cast notwithstanding, CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU? fails because, quite simply, it isn't very funny. Johansen--whose most memorable cinematic moment was as a cab-driving ghost in SCROOGED--is a ham who telegraphs every punchline. McGinley's Muldoon, a spit-shined rookie hopelessly out of place in a precinct full of donut-munching slackers, is promising at first, but quickly dissolves into an annoyingly lovesick puppydog. It's clear in spots that director Bill Fishman (who co-wrote and directed TAPEHEADS) is trying to emulate the rapid-fire, over-the-top style of the NAKED GUN films, but his pacing is far too slow and his star--Johansen--just can't manage the ironically ultra-straight delivery perfected by Leslie Nielsen. CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU? adds nothing to the police comedy genre that another POLICE ACADEMY couldn't provide. (Violence, nudity, profanity, sexual situations.) leave a comment

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