starring Robert De Niro, Eddie Murphy, Rene Russo, Ken Hudson Campbell
screenplay by Keith Sharon and Alfred Gough & Miles Millar
directed by Tom Dey
by Walter Chaw Shaping up as a spoof but neither smart enough to earn that label nor exciting enough to sustain interest otherwise, Tom Dey's slick Showtime is an incoherent mess of a film that relies on explosions and volume to distract from its tin ear and flat pacing. It wants desperately to be a self-aware genre exercise in the Scream vein, but after its characters mention that there are "rules" to the buddy-cop flick, it chooses to demonstrate them rather than subvert them. Screenwriters-by-committee Keith Sharon, Alfred Gough, and Miles Millar, patching together an abominable iteration of the same old Lethal Weapon tropes, have conspired to get De Niro to immediately make 15 Minutes again (but as an alleged intentional comedy) and to continue Eddie Murphy's typecasting as an animated jackass. Piling on the offenses, Showtime suffers from a few distracting plotholes, an obviously tacked-on prologue meant to elicit a Kindergarten Cop-esque brand of "isn't it funny to scare children with a terrifying actor," and a score by Alan Silvestri that actually approximates the feel of hammers to the brainpan.
Trey (Murphy) is a burlesque of a Black Cop. He's big on the wild gestures and criminal incompetence, wanting to be an actor and exploring his dreams by going to auditions while on duty, failing the detective's exam twice, playing video games in convenience stores in the middle of the night (in uniform), constantly brandishing his sidearm, and enlisting friends to fake felonies so that he can pretend-bust them. Mitch (De Niro) is a hard-bitten vice detective who, after shooting a television station's camera, is extorted into starring in a "reality" television series produced by a woman (Chase Renzi (Rene Russo)) responsible for fabricating a few "Dateline NBC" exposés. Trey and Mitch are brought together after a hugely unsuccessful opening action sequence in which Silvestri's bombastic lament informs of tension as to the true identity of the armed and dangerous Mitch, somehow forgetting that the audience already knows Mitch's true identity. It brings up the question of for whom the score is speaking: the audience or the characters.
Wrapped around all of this is the certainty that Trey will redeem himself in Mitch's eyes by movie's end, that there will be an ultra-violent framing story marrying the metal-piercing guns from Lethal Weapon (and RoboCop, and Eraser, and so on) with some cheap shots at Latinos, black women, and the press (yawn) for slack story convenience and easy yuks. One imagines the wags defending Showtime as a parody, but there comes a point in the life of an ineffectual parody in which the satire becomes the cliché. You can't call curdled milk "cream" simply by wishing it so, and you can't call a movie this stupid a "satire" of anything but unintentionally of itself.
There's a glaring continuity error involving a motorcycle in a parking garage (it seems to be headed for a comically lethal collision with Trey when, voilá!, it disappears), and a central moment where Trey coerces information from an inmate without his lawyer present that relies on the supposition that no one in the prison has seen the wildly popular show on which Trey is a regular. For all the broadsides the film takes at the criminal justice system, it misses the opportunity to talk about the presence of cable-TV in our prisons. The sad simplicity of it is that Showtime is sloppy and unfunny--facts Dey tries unsuccessfully to hide behind an insupportable amount of explosions and action sequences distinctive only for their length and volume.
Showtime is awful and reprehensible, ear-splitting and slapdash. Dey indulges in the kind of ugly laughter reliant upon our coolly intellectualized derision for lawyers, cops, and the media, with nary a hint of awareness that the film's messages are as dour and cynical as Johnny Cochrane's brief cameo as himself. It's a meaner, more desperate version of The Hard Way with an outtake reel over its closing credits that is as embarrassing and self-satisfied as what preceded. Showtime represents a career snapshot for De Niro (who seems perversely dedicated to mocking his old roles with his new ones), for Murphy, and for what passes as mainstream entertainment nowadays. The film is all cheap jokes, loose characterizations, bad thinking, and fillings-shaking noise--a joke, all right, but not funny for the right reasons. Originally published: March 15, 2002.