IMDb Bottom 100: Car 54, Where Are You?

Car 54, Where Are You?

Car 54, Where Are You? is a “comedy”, using a loose definition of the word. However, apparently it was almost a musical as well. Here is an excerpt from an AV Club interview with star John C. McGinley:

I have mixed feelings about Car 54, Where Are You? Because we shot it as a musical and whoever the studio head was at Orion, or whoever the powers that be were, cut all but, like, two musical numbers out of it. That is the same as cutting the musical numbers out of TheWizard Of Oz; it wouldn’t be that interesting. So the film, to me, doesn’t make sense without the musical numbers in it.

I wouldn’t pretend to know what happened, what the decision-making process was, but we busted our humps on those numbers, and then the film came out and I didn’t understand what I was watching.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that more musical numbers would not have saved this unfunny, poorly-crafted cartoon of a movie. It might have made it more entertainingly bad though, but the quality and storytelling certainly wouldn’t have been helped.

“this would make more sense with singing, right?”

Not unlike fellow IMDb Bottom 100 movie Son of the Mask, this movie feels a bit misplaced in time, in that the movie’s creators are trying to bottle and re-purpose an older style of comedy in such a way that it can be pitched to a new, younger audience. Unfortunately, somewhere along the process this movie lost the apparent charm of the original Car 54 television show, ultimately turning off (and outraging) many fans of the show upon its release. That is one of the worst things you can do when doing a remake or adaptation, as one of the major advantages you have to start off with is an existing fan base that can potential help support your work. However, when the fan base turns on you, it can do very serious damage to the movie’s reception. Car 54, Where Are You? is a very good example of this potential boon turning into a negative weight, as the show’s fans were outraged at the poor quality of the movie. While the movie is certainly not good or entertaining, I can’t help but wonder how much of the negative reputation of the movie can be attributed to the scorned fan base.

As far as the plot of the movie goes, the audience is presented with a pretty basic buddy cop formula: a loose, sketchy cop (David Johansen) is paired with a by-the-books, top-of-his class rookie (McGinley). The movie quickly establishes that their coverage area is particularly crime-ridden, and that they are incredibly incompetent as a duo via an assortment of unfunny shenanigans. The primary plot of the movie sneaks in after the main characters are established: the precinct is tasked with holding a bookie-turned-informant (Jeremy Piven of Entourage), who is the key to putting away the infamous and eccentric local mobster played by Daniel Baldwin. The Car 54 duo is roped into this plot after a failed assassination attempt on Piven’s character alerts the police chief to a potential mole in the department. Believing that the Car 54 partners are far too incompetent to be moles, he entrusts them with defending the increasingly bizarre and detached-from-reality Piven character. Predictably, this plan goes awry because everyone involved is dramatically incompetent.

Another brilliant idea from the police chief
Another brilliant idea from the police chief

The movie has moments that almost reach levels of genuine comedy, particularly an unprompted cameo by Penn & Teller, and a hitman doing one of the worst Luca Brasi impressions you will ever run into. The finale takes place in an amusement park, which concludes with the claustrophobic mob boss confessing to all of his crimes after being put through the Tunnel of Love. Despite these few moments of mild laughs, the whole movie just isn’t funny enough to make the grade. There are too many jokes that completely whiff, and all of the characters are played way too over the top. Daniel Baldwin and Jeremy Piven both put in complete nonsense performances, to the point that their characters just aren’t believable in any way. Baldwin’s mob boss character is played up to be hilarious because of his claustrophobia (which isn’t funny to start with), but is so overblown that it doesn’t even make sense within any kind of logic. A scene in his office shows that his condition is so severe that he has a chalked circle around his desk (in the center of the cavernous room), over which no one is allowed to cross. Piven, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to have any sense of self-preservation. Despite obvious assassination attempts on him, at no point does he connect that he is in danger. His character is supposedly offering testimony to police against a dangerous mob boss, yet he doesn’t at all understand the gravity of his situation. There is just too much of this kind of unfunny nonsense for the movie to be enjoyable.

As with many of the comedies on this list, the behind-the-scenes work doesn’t appear to be particularly incompetent. From what I have been able to find out about the movie, there was a lot of editing done after the fact to produce this unfortunate result. That said, I don’t think that the hack-job is particularly noticeable, which I suppose is a credit to the editing team. McGinley clearly wanted to level blame in that direction, but the fact of the matter is that the jokes in the remaining script still aren’t funny. The director clearly had an odd vision for this movie to start with, which certainly didn’t help, but even a master couldn’t have made this screenplay work without a serious rewrite. Likewise, it is hard to blame the actors for treating the movie like a cartoon, because that is what they were given to work with. To my surprise, Rosie O’Donnell’s bit role in the movie has been particularly singled out as a poor performance. She certainly isn’t a high point, but she hardly compares to the bizarre performances by Piven and Baldwin in my opinion.

There are a lot of bad elements to the movie, but unfortunately none of them are quite poor enough to make the movie unintentionally enjoyable. That tends to be hard for comedies to pull off anyway, but I wonder if those extra musical numbers might have put this over the edge. Perhaps if there is a director’s cut of this movie out there somewhere, it is a ridiculous enough spectacle to give a watch. However, as it stands, it appears that someone tried to save this wreck in post-production, and may have turned it from being an opus of poor film-making into a sub-par, difficult-to-watch attempt at comedy.

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