‘Car 54’ Takes Fatal Detour on the Road to Big Screen


“Car 54, Where Are You?” (general release), based on the popular Joe E. Ross and Fred Gwynne TV series of the ‘60s, bombs on the big screen in the ‘90s. Thanks to a relentlessly terrible script by many hands, it’s a dumb movie about dumb cops that should have remained on the shelf, where it’s been sitting for over two years.

Gravel-voiced David Johansen stars as Gunther Toody, not exactly Brooklyn’s finest, who gets a new partner in John C. McGinley’s uptight, by-the-book Francis Muldoon after Leo Schnauzer (Al Lewis, from the original series) at last retires. Amid uninspired nonstop shenanigans--many loaded with heavy-handed sexual innuendo--there’s a nominal plot concerning the nailing of a Mafia kingpin, played by Daniel Baldwin as a Robert De Niro impression. (In case we don’t get this, Baldwin is actually required to refer to De Niro). Cop groupie Velma Velour (Fran Drescher) vamps the virginal Muldoon while Toody endures shrewish wife Lucille (Rosie O’Donnell).

These and others--including Nipsey Rusell, also from the TV series, as the precinct’s none-too-swift captain--are game under Bill Fishman’s energetic direction, but one and all are done in by the dire, dated material. To give credit where credit is due, the film, a seamless blend of Toronto and Brooklyn locales, has colorful settings, but their authenticity serves only to underline the production’s synthetic quality. Wonderfully seedy Coney Island is too good a backdrop to waste on the film’s frenzied finish.

‘Car 54, Where Are You?’

David Johansen: Gunther Toody

John C. McGinley: Francis Muldoon

Fran Drescher: Velma Velour

Rosie O’Donnell: Lucille Toody

An Orion Pictures release. Director Bill Fishman. Producer Robert H. Solo. Screenplay by Erik Tarloff, Ebbe Rose Smith & Peter McCarthy, Peter Crabbe; from a story by Tarloff. Based on the TV series created and produced by Nat Hiken. Cinematographer Rodney Charters. Editors Alan Balsam, Earl Watson. Costumes Margaret M. Mohr. Music Pray for Rain, Bernie Worrell. Production designer Catherine Hardwick. Art director Gregory P. Keen. Set decorator Anthony Greco. Sound Pete Shewchuk. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes.

MPAA-rated PG-13 (language, sexual innuendo). Times-guidance: crude sexual double entendre, many suggestive remarks, makes the film unsuitable for youngsters.