Robert De Niro has apparently been attempting a kind of anti-Robin Williams career turn of late. Whereas the former manic stand-up comedian has peppered his career with somber Oscar-worthy dramas like Awakenings and Dead Poet's Society, De Niro, the consummate dramatic actor, has filled the latter part of his rsum with Analyze This, Meet The Parents, and now Showtime. Rocky and Bullwinkle notwithstanding, this new comedic niche he's carved out for himself seems to be working out quite well.
At the center of Showtime is a new brand of reality-TV; a cop show called, coincidentally, Showtime. Based off the same premise as COPS, Showtime follows two detectives on their hunt for a rogue arms dealer with a new kind of super-gun. De Niro plays Mitch, the straight man, a top notch detective with little patience for foolishness or ineptitude. After a drug sting gone wrong, Mitch comes face to face with the gun and watches as it levels several police cars, a van, and an entire shop full of TVs. (Action directors love to shoot TVs) Later, Mitch, frustrated with the escape of the perp, shoots a television camera out of the hands of a pesky cameraman. Unfortunately, that camera belonged to a fledgling network hungry for a new cop show and lacking only one thing, leverage. Eddie Murphy, the comedy half of this action comedy, plays Patrolman Trey, an aspiring actor who only became a cop because he was a lousy waiter. Trey is eager, but really only knows as much about being a cop as you could learn watching a Hill Street Blues marathon, or the Beverly Hills Cop series. He poses, he arches his eyebrow expertly, he even has a catch-phrase: "It's Showtime!" But when it comes to actual policework, Trey is lost without a map. The two are paired up by the studio as partners and away we go.
One of the funnier running gags of the movie involve Rene Russo as an ambitious young producer and her assistant as they run roughshod through De Niro's comfortable police world in an effort to make it more "authentic." Of course, their idea of authentic is based on the lessons of Miami Vice and Lethal Weapon. "Our research shows that most detectives live in visually distinctive homes, like a downtown loft or a trailer on the beach." Mitch's drab apartment is re-outfitted with brightly colored retro furniture and an ex-drug sniffing dog named Powder. Trey's apartment, on the other hand, set in the Hollywood hills, with a Serpico poster over the bed is perfect. The police station is completely revamped to be less "depressing". And Mitch's office is now a glass enclosed cubicle, complete with a confessional booth, that both Mitch and Trey are contractually obligated to spend at least five minutes per day in, talking about their feelings, their partner, whatever. Trey leaps at the chance; Mitch spends his time in the booth cleaning his gun.
Also funny is the presence of T.J. Hooker himself, William Shatner as a consultant on the show. He shows the unlikely duo how TV cops do hood rolls and drug busts. "He cuts the bag open with his pocketknife, dips his pinky in, and lightly touches the powder to his tongue. Aha! Hooker knows it's cocaine!" "What if it's cyanide?" Mitch snaps back. Shatner shows a great sense of humor at being willing to lampoon himself so effectively. Had he had more screen time, he could've stolen the entire show.
Showtime works well for most of the movie. De Niro and Murphy have great chemistry, and it's nice to see Eddie back to his Beverly Hills Cop sharpness. Rene Russo is perfect as the producer who won't quit, and I was glad the movie was never clogged with an irritating and irrelevant love story. However, the whole subplot of the supergun, a weapon that can literally level houses seems a little excessive and unnecessary in itself. It begets a level of violence and mayhem that, while not unheard of in action comedies, is a little much for this movie. As it often does in movies these days, the climax is reached too soon, and is handled clumsily as compared to the rest of the film. Those problems aside, Showtime was fun, and pretty much delivers what it promises. I'd probably even see it again, if only because it's easy to watch - it doesn't tax your heart and soul, and it doesn't make you sorry you talked your friends or family into going with you. Showtime may not quite hit the big time, but it was worth my time. Grade: B
Showtime is rated PG-13 for language and violence.
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