Dir Tom Dey. US 2002. 95mins.
In the silly, utterly redundant, and only sporadically funny action comedy Showtime, Robert De Niro and Eddie Murphy try to have their cake and eat it, cashing in on their established screen images while at the same time spoofing and deviating from them. Cliche-ridden and replete with references to various aspects of American movie and pop culture (specifically cop shows, action stars, and black actors), it's a poorly directed comedy whose single idea - the blur between reel and real life via TV reality shows - would have been timely and poignant a decade ago. However, in the current climate, this high-concept mish-mash comes across as a deja vu and unabashedly commercial enterprise that's been conceived to make a quick buck. Dual star power will propel the film to a solid opening weekend from a wide release, although negative reviews and lukewarm word of mouth will curtail the theatrical run of this Warner feature. Foreign audiences may giggle slightly more than their American counterparts, since reality show are not as popular overseas.
LA police detective Mitch Preston (De Niro) is a man of much action and few words. All he wants is to be left alone, do his job and serve the police force and his community as he has done for the past 28 years. In the first scene, he gives a tough, no-nonsense talk to some school children about the cop's real role in society, which is nothing like what they see on TV. By contrast, patrol officer Trey Sellars (Murphy) would much rather play a cop on TV than be a good one in real life. A semi-trained, frustrated actor, he spends his workdays rousting pickpockets and his evenings posing in front of the mirror, trying to perfect his action poses to maximal photogenic effect.
The audience knows that opposites attract, and so it's only a matter of time before Mitch and Trey meet up: too bad that the screenwriters couldn't come up with a more original context for the duo's initial encounter and subsequent predictable and endless bickering a la The Odd Couple. One night, Trey stumbles into an undercover operation, inadvertently blowing Mitch's big chance of nailing a gang of drug dealers. Seconds later, a TV news crew barges in on the action and, with lights ablaze, Mitch's desperate attempts to arrest his fleeting suspects are hindered.
Disheartened at seeing months of work go down the drain, Mitch fires a shot at the camera, but, again, avid moviegoers know that within a short time, he will be embracing that camera and even use it to his own advantage. Indeed, while declaring animosity toward intrusive reporters and poseurs like Trey, Mitch is a loner, a cold-hearted pro who needs to be mellowed by a human touch. That touch is provided by Chase Rensi (Russo), a powerhouse network TV producer, who grabs the opportunity when Mitch's impulsive action lands his photo on the front page of New York's tabloid newspapers. The publicity buys him an official reprimand but, more importantly to the story, also turn him into an instant media celebrity.
Nowadays, any story based on the notion that the ultimate desire of every American is to be seen on TV or allusions to Warhol's prophecy about 15 minutes of fame, should be regarded as perilously retro and even reactionary. Indeed, De Niro himself has already made a "serious" action film about the same subject: in New Line's disappointingly contrived 15 Minutes, he played a New York detective bonding with rookie Edward Burns and tracking down foreigners smugly seeking to manipulate the US media.
In Showtime, one can barely count the truly fresh ideas on one hand. The only game for the audience, albeit a dubious one, is to detect the origins of the cliches and the source of the pop culture allusions. Hence, Chase is a lighter, more comic version of the Faye Dunaway character in Lumet's farce Network, made a quarter of a century ago. Knowing a sure rating draw when she sees one, Chase swoops in and sells the police chief on the PR benefits of her plan - positive corporate image - by letting her crew follow Mitch around the clock for a live reality show about cops.
However, not trusting the slight comedic ingredients, the filmmakers insert poorly-staged action sequences (chases, shootouts, brawls) with the predictable precision of a Swiss clock whenever the central conceit dawdles - which is often. At the end, Mitch consents reluctantly to Chase's scheme, knowing that it will get him off suspension so that he can get back to tracking the drug dealer, astereotypical villain named Varga (Pedro Damian), who slipped through his hands.
At least half of the story is spent on the development of camaraderie between Mitch and Trey, with both more engaged in talk about their need to bond than actually doing it. Predictably, it's disclosed that Mitch is not the straight arrow he appears to be, living in a messy apartment - which soon gets decorated for the show - and practising his hobby of pottery.
Both De Niro and Murphy have played numerous cops in their respective careers. De Niro starred in a far superior fun comedy, Martin Brest's Midnight Run, in which he played a bounty hunter and ex-cop tracking Charles Grodin's embezzling accountant. As for Murphy, who recently has been talking to animals in mindless but commercial comedies like Dr Doolittle, he was propelled to stardom in the 1980s by stronger action comedies such as 48 Hours and the Beverly Hills Cop series.
Showtime suffers from draggy pacing and uninspired direction by Tom Dey (in his second effort after 2000's buddy-buddy Western comedy Shanghai Noon) and lazy performances, giving the impression that the central thespians could have phoned in their work. This is particularly the case with De Niro, who fails to conceal his boredom with his routine part. The most distinctive element of the film is its brief running time, 95 minutes, including credits and outtakes. Technical credits are pedestrian, to say the least, in all departments.
Pro cos: Material Productions, Tribeca Productions, Overbrook Entertainment
US dist: Warner Bros
Int'l dist: Warner Int'l/Village Roadshow (select territories)
Exec prods: Will Smith, James Lassiter, Eric McLeod, Bruce Berman
Prods: Jorge Saralegui and Jane Rosenthal
Scr: Keith Sharon, Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, based on the story by Saralegui
Cinematography: Thomas Kloss
Prod des: Jeff Mann
Ed: Billy Weber
Music: Alan Silvestri
Main cast: Robert De Niro, Eddie Murphy, Renee Russo, Frankie R. Faison, Drena De Niro, Pedro Damian, and William Shatner (as himself)