`Car 54': This Vehicle Is A Wreck

Movie review

X "Car 54, Where are You?," with David Johansen, John McGinley, Rosie O'Donnell, Fran Drescher, Al Lewis, Daniel Baldwin and Nipsey Russell. Directed by Bill Fishman, from a screenplay by Erik Tarloff, Ebbe Roe Smith, Peter McCarthy and Peter Crabbe. Gateway 8, Newmark, Aurora, Parkway Plaza, Everett 9. "PG-13" - Parental guidance strongly suggested, due to profanity, mature humor. -------------------------------------------------------------------

Half the cast of "Car 54, Where Are You?" has moved on to bigger and better things since this barking mutt of a comedy was made over two years ago, and it's a given that all of them would prefer to be spared the embarrassment of the movie's long-delayed release.

Rosie O'Donnell has got a good movie career going; Fran Drescher is "The Nanny" in her own well-received TV sitcom; and Daniel Baldwin co-stars in the cop series "Homicide: Life on the Street." The others are either steadily employed, has-beens or never-wases, but in any case they're all washed up in this stale leftover from Orion Pictures' bankruptcy.

As one of the movies made long before Orion resumed their faltering release schedule (the others included "Love Field," "RoboCop 3," and the upcoming Martin Short comedy "Clifford"), this chaotic, pre-adolescent collection of lame gags makes one long for Orion's golden days.

But that was then, this is now, and "Car 54, Where are You?" is an insult to the popular late-1950's TV show that inspired it. The spirit of the old show is occasionally alive in the bumbling exploits of officer Gunther Toody (David Johansen) and his button-down partner Muldoon (John McGinley), but otherwise this disco-driven hash could barely get a laugh from someone who's just inhaled a liter of nitrous oxide.

Drescher's the cop groupie who seduces and then falls for Muldoon; O'Donnell is Toody's pastel-plastered wife who spouts lispy Brooklynese; Baldwin is the puffy mafia Don who wants to rub out the incriminating witness that the cops have been assigned to protect. And because every Noo Yawk movie police precinct must have an African-American captain, Nipsey Russell sleepwalks through his role like he was still stuck on the panel of "The Match Game."

Baldwin plays his kingpin effectively straight; Jeremy Piven is OK as the toady witness; and there's a choice bit with rapper Tone Loc as a Central Park carriage driver who plays the '70's hit "Afternoon Delight" on his boom box. Once or twice, director Bill Fishman takes the comedy down a few delirious non-sequitur detours.

But it's all in the service of a brain-dead flop. If you have any inexplicable desire to see "Car 54," take this advice: wait for its imminent release on video, and then consider renting something else instead.