'Showtime' misses mark despite Murphy, De Niro chemistry
By Marshall Fine
The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News
|SHOWTIME (Rated PG-13 for profanity, violence) Two Stars (Fair)
Two mismatched cops are teamed to have their work filmed for a reality TV series in this weak comedy that gets its minimal laughs from the chemistry between the stars. But the film misses the boat in satirizing its subject. Starring Eddie Murphy, Robert De Niro, Rene Russo. Directed by Tom Dey. Warner Bros., 95 mins.
Unfortunately, "Showtime" has terrible aim, despite having such a large and obvious target.
The film, a buddy-cop comedy that teams Robert De Niro and Eddie Murphy, features Murphy as the fast-talking cut-up and De Niro as the quietly aggravated one who does slow burns and tosses off withering one-liners. Talk about imaginative casting.
Still, there is actually chemistry between these two stars, which is fortunate because there apparently was none between the team of three writers who concocted the script. As a result, "Showtime" misses many more opportunities than it milks.
De Niro plays Mitch Preston, an L.A. police detective with a gruff, no-nonsense demeanor. In the film's opening scenes, he has an undercover drug bust spoiled by an overanxious uniformed cop named Trey Sellars (Murphy), who is an aspiring actor. Their encounter causes Preston to lose a suspect with a new, hybrid automatic weapon but not before Preston shoots the camcorder out of the hands of a TV cameraman who gets in his way.
The ensuing public relations fiasco forces Mitch to agree to the wishes of the cameraman's network: specifically, that he allow himself to be filmed on the job for a new reality series (think "Cops"). The alternative is a large lawsuit against the police department.
Looking for dramatic tension, the show's ambitious producer, Chase Renzi (Rene Russo), teams Mitch with Sellars. The "stars" are given new clothes, new cars and even lessons on how to be TV cops by William Shatner (as himself), based on Shatner's "T.J. Hooker" experience.
The plot, such as it is, involves tracking down the source of the super-gun from that first shootout, even as Preston and Sellars deal with increasing fame from TV exposure.
The buddy plot in this case, an odd-couple pairing of antagonists who become friends is so familiar that most viewers could diagram its arc in their sleep. Grumpy loner resents hotshot partner but learns to respect his unique skills. Hotshot partner gains knowledge from grumpy loner and learns the true meaning of partnership, while tempering his own hot-dog impulses. Nothing new there.
What makes it work as well as it does (which isn't all that well) is the blend of De Niro's sourpuss seriousness and Murphy's infectious, motor-mouthed grin. Their back-and-forth is engaging, mostly because of the performances and only occasionally because of the script.
The screenplay drops the ball in terms of making sport of reality TV. Its toothless and obvious gags about TV's craven nature are virtually beside the point in a world of "Fear Factor" and "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?"
De Niro starred in another indictment of reality TV last year in the similarly pointless "15 Minutes." Reality TV obviously is fair game for a killing satire a la "Network." "Showtime," however, isn't it.
Rated PG-13 profanity, violence.