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Classic Movie Review: 'Car 54, Where Are You?'

1994 is a desert of terrible movies and Car 54, Where Are You is the latest example on the I Hate Critics 1994 Podcast.

By Sean PatrickPublished about a month ago 5 min read
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Car 54, Where Are You? (1994)

Directed by Bill Fishman

Written by Erik Tarloff, Ebbe Roe Smith, Peter McCarthy, Peter Crabbe

Starring David Johansen, John C. McGinley, Rosie O'Donnell, Fran Drescher, Nipsey Russell, Daniel Baldwin.

Release Date January 28th, 1994

Published January 29th, 1994

If you think the Hollywood of today is fearful of releasing musicals, considering that both Wonka and Mean Girls were seemingly released without telling anyone that they were musicals, you should see how scared of musicals Hollywood execs were in the early 1990s. Hollywood was so afraid of musicals in the early 1990s that they made two of them and then refused to release them as musicals. Two movies, released within one week of each other in 1994, began life as musicals and arrived in theaters minus most of their musical numbers.

Naturally, that's not easy to do. In the case of the next movie I will be talking about for this series, I'll Do Anything, an entire film score written and performed by Prince, was scrapped after poor test screenings. This is deeply ironic as one of the songs was literally intended as the lament of a Hollywood movie producer character racked with angst over poor test screening scores. Hiring Prince to write and perform a film score is not cheap, scrapping it after paying him seems even more insane and expensive and yet that's what happened.

The other musical that became not a musical just before being released in theaters was the film adaptation of the short lived 1950s sitcom, Car 54 Where Are You. The original concept for Car 54 Where Are You was as a painfully modern musical and an edgy reboot for one of the most edge-free sitcoms of Boomer youth. Instead of following the travails of cop buddies Toody and Muldoon as they try and trick their wives into letting them go fishing, we have Toody, as played by David Johansen, delivering a hip hop infused dream sequence where he boogies while being celebrated as a neighborhood hero in song. In reality, Toody is napping his way through a riot.

This dream sequence song is one of two songs that producers felt they had to keep in Car 54 Where Are You. The other comes late in the film as Johansen jumps into sing a song that vaguely resembles his late 80s one-hit-wonder Hot, Hot Hot. All other songs have been excised, aside from a brief and deeply unfortunate scene where a pair of rappers encourage Jeremy Piven to attempt to beatbox. It's even more cringe-inducing than you imagine. Piven is a plot point character, a former mob account that Toody is assigned to keep safe. Naturally, our bumbling hero fumbles this task and the last act is trying to save Piven from a mobster played with dopey, broad, hamminess by Daniel Baldwin, the discount Baldwin brother.

John C. McGinley is wasted in Car 54 Where Are You. McGinley is an innately charismatic and good looking actor who would go on to prove his comic chops as Dr. Cox on Scrubs. Sadly, he's stranded in Car 54 Where Are You. Cast as an overly serious rookie officer who gives tickets for Jaywalking or Spitting on the sidewalk. In a lengthy sequence of regrettable and poorly aged action, McGinley's officious rookie officer tries to shoot a child suspect in the back as the child flees. The child's crime? He stole a $5.00 sandwich from a deli. It's funny because he tried to kill a child and fired his gun into a crowd of people, one of whom was only saved by a watermelon which proved to be just enough to stop a bullet.

This is supposed to be funny but I can assure you, it's not. Nothing in this messy, sloppy, and slipshod adaptation of a long forgotten sitcom, is funny. For instance, the marriage between Johansen's Toody and Rosie O'Donnell's Mrs. Toody. This is another terrible sitcom trope where all of the jokes are about how awful it is to be married but we still love each other. Oh, and they still have sex as well, in a scene that is left in the movie. I would have rather suffered through another song than to have seen any of this needless sex scene, but here we are with Car 54 Where Are You, a series of bad ideas cut into a forgettable disaster of a movie.

Car 54 Where Are You then briefly becomes a movie obsessed with getting John C. McGinley's virginal cop laid. This involves getting him involved with a woman who has a cop obsession. Fran Drescher stars as Velma Velour, a woman with a sexual fetish for cops and badges. Velma has supposedly slept her way through the department but with Muldoon, she falls in love and she takes his virginity in the back of a horse drawn carriage all while Tone Loc watches and briefly narrates the action. That truly sounds funnier than it actually is, I assure you. It probably doesn't even sound fun, it's just absurd and random and leaves audiences merely confused and uncomfortable.

My favorite piece of Car 54 Where Are You trivia, courtesy of IMDB, isn't the musical numbers being cut out. Rather, it's a brief note about director Bill Fishman. According to Car 54 lore, Fishman wasn't informed that the movie had come out. Instead, Fishman found out some four years after completing the movie that it had been released. He received a residual check for the film's first airing on TV. Fishman went on to tell an interviewer later that if he thought the film was actually ever going to be released, he'd have taken his name on it, replacing it with the legendary Alan Smithee credit.

Car 54 Where Are You is the subject of the latest I Hate Critics 1994 Podcast, a spinoff of the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast. On this show, myself and my co-hosts, Gen Z'er M.J and Gen-X'er Amy, discuss movies that came out the same weekend 30 years ago. It's a fascinating look at how movies and culture have changed in just the past 30 years. We've had a downright miserable run of movies so far in 1994 and Car 54 Where Are You is a great example of the horrors that 1994 has visited upon us thus far. Listen to the I Hate Critic 1994 Podcast on the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast feed, wherever you listen to podcasts.

Find my archive of more than 20 years and nearly 2000 movie reviews at SeanattheMovies.Blogspot.com. Find my modern review archive on my Vocal Profile, linked here. Follow me on Twitter at PodcastSean. Follow the archive blog on Twitter at SeanattheMovies. Listen to me talk about movies on the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast. If you'd like to support my writing, you can do so by making a monthly pledige or by leaving a one-time tip. Thanks!

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About the Creator

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast I am a voting member of the Critics Choice Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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