Cop movies. Buddy movies. Movies with big guns and explosions. Cop buddy movies with big guns and explosions – enough already! Showtime, the most recent evidence that Robert De Niro is making some very bad career choices, is a film that wants to have its schtick and beat it too. It starts out as a fairly decent parody of the cop/buddy genre and throws several sharp and well-aimed barbs, but then lazily morphs into exactly the kind of film that it was lampooning. It’s as if American Beauty had ended with Kevin Spacey coming home to find a beaming Annette Bening wearing June Cleaver graduated pearls and bearing a pitcher of lemonade on a tray.
In version 2,039 of a premise that has long worn out its welcome, Mitch Preston (De Niro) is the tough veteran non-nonsense cop, a hard-bitten detective with 20+ years on the force who hates being filmed by TV news crews. Trey Sellars (Eddie Murphy) is the gregarious upstart patrolman who dabbles in acting on the side. The twist (and it’s a mild one) is that network executive Chase Renzi (Rene Russo) has paired the two as partners on a new "reality" TV show that plants cameras everywhere to follow their exploits on the beat. So, let’s see: one cop is older, one younger. One’s white, one’s black. One can act, one can’t.
Any film where William Shatner plays himself and mocks T. J. Hooker can’t be all bad, but Showtime manages to come very close. And to think that it all starts so promisingly, with a lecture to an elementary school class about the real nature of police work where Preston debunks about 40 years’ worth of action-adventure movie cliches. A sample: "Never in my career have I ever been forced to choose between the blue wire and the red wire." TV network brass also catch a few satiric blasts, but it’s not much of a revelation that most of them are just concerned with the flavor of the month, and the jabs fall flat.
Given the promising satirical setup, it’s a disappointment when screenwriter Keith Sharon introduces an incredible weak subplot involving drug deals and The Biggest Baddest Damn Gun You’ve Ever Seen, and the story lurches back into the deep ruts left by all previous cop buddy films. Not to worry, the expected chases, explosions, gunfire, and snide yet insightful banter between partners leading to begrudging acceptance and eventual friendship are all present. Away from filmdom Sharon is a reporter for the Orange County Register and should probably keep his day job. Director Tom Dey (Shanghai Noon) seems to believe that the best way to remedy lagging action is to crank the soundtrack volume up a few hundred decibels and have his actors drive faster.
De Niro plays Preston like he’s got a bus to catch. It looks like he couldn’t be bothered to create a persona much different than his grumpy Dad in Meet The Parents. Murphy creates a few funny moments out of nothing, his mime routine while driving is amusingly out of place in an otherwise dreary 90 minutes, but other than that he, too, repeats himself. Rene Russo’s Renzi is hardass and manic but otherwise opaque – so it really comes out of nowhere when she and Preston link up romantically near the end of the film. It’s said that opposites attract, but in this film blank stereotypes apparently do too.
Showtime starts out sharply but eventually becomes a placebo of a film, bland and inert. Whatever goodwill it generates at its outset is smothered in a typical action film blanket of napalm. Following this and his preceding few pictures, what’s next for De Niro – TV sitcoms?
– Bob Aulert