Unwatchable #32: Car 54, Where Are You?

Your fearless – and quite possibly senseless – movie janitor is watching every movie on the IMDb Bottom 100 list. Join us now for another installment of Unwatchable.

Welcome to the semi-triumphant return of Unwatchable! I was going to say I wish we had a better movie to discuss…but then it wouldn’t be Unwatchable, would it?

Car 54, Where Are You? was not the first movie based on a sitcom and it was far from the last, but it just might be the most perplexing. It wasn’t adapted from a beloved childhood favorite like The Brady Bunch or a staple of syndication like The Beverly Hillbillies or The Addams Family, but from a fairly obscure early ’60s series that doesn’t even boast an easily marketable hook like My Favorite Martian. Whatever popularity it had was largely dependent on the comedic chemistry of its cast members, notably leads Fred Gwynn and Joe E. Ross as NYPD officers Francis Muldoon and Gunther Toody.

It would only seem logical, then, that a revival of Car 54, Where You Are You? would serve as a vehicle for the storied comedy duo of David Johansen and John C. McGinley. Johansen is Toody, the friendly neighborhood cop whose longtime partner Leo Schnauzer (Al Lewis) is finally retired. (Lewis, better known as Grandpa Munster, is reprising his role from the original series, as is Nipsey Russell as Captain Anderson. This raises some metaphysical questions, since Schnauzer and Anderson obviously served with earlier incarnations of Toody and Muldoon, but I’ll leave these troubling issues to the fervent Car 54 fan base.) Toody’s new partner is by-the-book Muldoon (McGinley), a stick in the mud who cramps Toody’s fun-lovin’ style. In the course of their duties protecting a mob witness (Jeremy Piven) from New York kingpin (Daniel Baldwin), Toody tries to loosen Muldoon up by introducing him to the local cop groupie Velma Velour (Fran Drescher).

Although it was filmed in 1990, Car 54 sat on the shelf at Orion Pictures for nearly four years. By the time it was released, it must have looked more dated than the original series – it certainly does now. The movie was directed by Bill Fishman, who’d previously made Tapeheads, one of those ’80s wannabe cult movies that had its moments but mostly got by on kitschy parody and MTV style. Car 54 is more of the same; there’s some mildly amusing Airplane-esque absurdity to be found amongst the cliched shtick and perfunctory musical numbers (Johansen does an almost note-for-note knockoff of his sole Buster Poindexter hit, “Hot! Hot! Hot!”). If you happened upon any given five minutes while flipping the channels, you might not hate what you see, but it takes real stamina to power through the whole thing.

About the cast: Johanson is presumably doing his best homage to Joe E. Ross, but he comes across like Harvey Fierstein auditioning for the role of Silvio on The Sopranos. Rosie O’Donnell is on hand as Toodie’s suspicious wife Lucille, and you get to see her dropped into a garbage dumpster. And I am very serious about this: Fran Drescher circa 1990 was one of the all-time hotties. If only they’d had voice replacement technology available at the time, she might have been the biggest star of the decade. Admittedly, when she opens her mouth and you hear the sound of Woody Allen’s mother coming out of her, it douses the flames considerably, but I’m here to tell you she is one smokin’ babe in this thing. At least it’s got that going for it.

Previously on Unwatchable:
33. Glitter
34. House of the Dead
35. Santa With Muscles (unseen)
36. Daddy Day Camp
37. Bad Girls from Valley High

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9 Comments on “Unwatchable #32: Car 54, Where Are You?”

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