Lights. Camera. Aggravation.
Time has really helped everyone forget that there was a time in Eddie Murphy's career where he was turning out really crappy movies like The Golden Child and Harlem Nights. Hollywood's comedic genius who'd starred in great movies like 48 Hrs., Trading Places, and Beverly Hills Cop and exhibited a fast-talking charm and excellent timing disappeared into obscurity to start a singing career (such as it was). Murphy returned when he starred in the smash hit remake of The Nutty Professor, and suddenly his career has experienced a second coming in Hollywood.
Time has also made us forget that Robert De Niro once played some of the best Hollywood heavies on the sane side of Dennis Hopper in movies like Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, and The Untouchables (in a memorable performance as the infamous Al Capone). Lately, though, De Niro has found a niche playing the straight man in a string of comedies with talent like Ben Stiller (Meet The Parents), Billy Crystal (Analyze This), and lately Eddie Murphy in Showtime. After staying in theaters for about two days, Warner Brothers has quickly brought it to DVD to recoup some of their $85 million budget.
Facts of the Case
Mitch Preston (De Niro) is a gritty, by-the-book vice cop on the trail of some dangerous drug dealers. When his bust gets interrupted by an eager-to-please beat cop, Trey Sellars (Murphy), and nosy news helicopters, things get deadly as the drug gang unleashes some new type of firearm that leaves Mitch scrambling and his partner in the hospital. In the process, a journalist gets way too close to the action, which enrages Mitch and he puts a bullet through the camera. When TV producer Chase Renzi (the still-beautiful Rene Russo, Lethal Weapon 3, The Thomas Crown Affair) gets hold of the footage, she sets off to create a new reality cop show with Mitch as the subject. With the damage done to the TV camera, the department forces Mitch to go along with the project (which is conveniently called "Showtime"), which he does unwillingly.
Enter Trey, who gets wind that they're looking for a new partner for Mitch to be on the show. You see, Trey is not only a cop, but he's an aspiring actor and he'll do anything, including staging a fake mugging, to get to be on the show. Naturally, Mitch takes an instant disliking to a flashy, unprofessional cop who doesn't take his job seriously. Mitch even takes a greater disliking to Chase once she begins to redecorate his apartment, skipping over his pottery room. Hilarity ensues.
Well, maybe not hilarity, but Showtime does manage to provide a few good chuckles. Not necessarily laughs, and certainly not guffaws nor cackles or sniggers. But certainly chuckles. In today's day and age where the various media outlets are competing for scoops in such a way that they endanger the public, themselves, and police officers all for the sake of a news story is a concern in journalism classes at colleges across the country (though certainly not in actual practice). Since such an event triggers the events in Showtime, the pervasiveness of modern media becomes even more relevant with the introduction of yet another reality show. Weren't things so much better when reality TV consisted of Cops to give us a modern glimpse at human stupidity?
Anyway, ethical questions aside, the reality show sets itself up to be a modern train wreck not too different from The Anna Nicole Smith Show, only this time there's bullets flying around the set instead of an overweight, former model's bosoms. Showtime takes a satirical look at what "reality" TV shows might do to show us a false sense of reality. Is there ever really a time other than Gilligan's Island where people were stranded on an island and competed with each other in staged events? I didn't think so. And Showtime approaches this issues when Chase realizes that Mitch really isn't all that interesting after all (she initially thinks he's a random loose cannon) and decides to spruce up his life by changing his dingy apartment into something Crockett and/or Tubbs would have lived in.
The story in Showtime is actually somewhat lackluster (more on that in a moment), but it's the interaction between the cast members that really make this movie what it is. Even though they're bogged down by an ultimately formulaic script, Murphy still has the wit and candor that made him a sensation during his early days. Thankfully, Murphy isn't nearly as brash and over the top as some of his earlier characters, and that's really a good thing. Trey continues to ham it up and mug for the various hidden cameras, and it's a role that suits Murphy, who's made a career out of hamming and mugging. Though I haven't been all that impressed with his choice in scripts of late, De Niro serves well as a gruff straight guy in a comic tandem. There's a certain baggage of reputation that De Niro brings into his films that's hard to forget no matter how hard you try, and his various directors have played this up well, something that Tom Dey manages to do with Showtime (and Dey had plenty of practice in dealing with Owen Wilson and Jackie Chan in Shanghai Noon—Showtime is his second film). De Niro's very understated style works well to play off of Murphy's hijinks, and this leads to a number of great moments. Despite being the straight guy in the film, De Niro still manages to land some comedic punches on Rene Russo's overly-aggressive, TV show-producing hardass. Russo plays a rather stereotypical character, but she manages to bring a sense of charm to it. The audience should end up hating Chase Renzi, but it's something that becomes increasingly difficult as the movie progresses and she becomes the butt of more and more of Mitch's barbs.
A lot of great movies have moments where a big star does a 10-minute cameo and ends up stealing the film away from the stars. Christopher Walken manages to steal a great deal of thunder in small roles in movies like Pulp Fiction and Mouse Hunt, and nobody who's seen The Princess Bride is likely to forget the brief impact Billy Crystal and Carol Kane have on the film. Showtime manages to give us the over-acting, Godzilla-scale-scenery-chewing William Shatner (Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, Airplane II: The Sequel) starring, oddly enough, as himself. Shatner comes to the set of a commercial shoot and tries to instruct Mitch and Trey in the finer points of being a TV cop, such as grimacing, eyebrow raising, and hood jumping (something Shatner turned into a laughable trademark during his stint on TJ Hooker). Hilarity certainly does ensue in this case, and Shatner's cameo also manages to set up a number of great gags later in the film (like why cops don't actually jump across car hoods). By all accounts Shatner may very well have an enormous ego, but I can respect and appreciate any actor who can appear and lampoon his talents and past achievements. This is definitely the high point of Showtime.
Showtime is presented in it's original aspect ratio with a capable-but-flawed video presentation. The colors are all mixed properly but I did pick up some trace amounts of edge enhancement and some pixellation, but nothing to wholly distract from the film. The audio mix is equally impressive as evidenced in a few of the action scenes in the film. For extras Warner Brothers has included the "HBO First Look: the Making of Showtime," which, like all other HBO First Looks is a big, long piece of fluff and advertising. There's also a rather decent audio commentary by director Tom Dey and producer Jorge Saralegui. If you like the movie, it's worth a listen. Also included are various deleted and extended scenes, most of which I can see why they were removed (but more on this in a moment). These scenes also include some of Murphy's outtakes, which just weren't as funny as promised on the packaging. Rounding out the special features are the obligatory theatrical trailer and talent bios. Warner Brothers has also provided a cardboard snapper case that conveniently turns into a sponge when you dip it in water.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Showtime's main problem is the obvious identity crisis that it finds itself in. On one hand, Showtime tries to be a witty satire of modern news media and entertainment programming and partially manages to succeed in this endeavor. On the other hand, Showtime tries to be a cop/buddy action-adventure movie and partially manages to succeed in this endeavor. And somewhere in the middle they meet, but there's a problem here in that there are elements of the film that are too dark (the drug deals, the "super gun") to make a truly effective comedy, and at other times the humor is a little too forced to make a truly effective action movie. Watching Showtime made me appreciate other genre efforts like Richard Donner's brilliant Lethal Weapon even more, and I think instead of rewatching Showtime I'll have to pop that one in when I'm done writing this review. Where Donner managed to make a great, dark cop movie with comedic elements, Dey tries to walk a tightrope between the two and manages to slip and fall off. Are there some good gags with poignant humor built into the script? Absolutely. Are there good action scenes? Absolutely. But the big problem is that neither of these elements is given the proper time to develop and play out in a short 90-minute run time. I know there's some sort of unwritten rule that comedies should only be 90 minutes long (or, if you're Barry Sonnenfeld, about 75 minutes long), but this causes the film to lose a little credibility as a comedy when 30 minutes are devoted to being an action film, and a lot of credibility as an action film when 60 minutes are devoted to comedy. This problem is compounded when you look at the deleted scenes and see that there was plenty of decent material that could have been kept in the film that served to add to the tension between the various characters (building up the whole cop/buddy thing) and serve as comedic fodder. The extended version of the television show's premiere party was a perfect example of what shouldn't have been edited and chopped out of the film. As a result, the film pretty much becomes unremarkable, and it will probably be forgotten not too long after I type my Verdict below. I know there's some marketing wonk at Warner Brothers commanding that all movies be 90 minutes so more showings per day can get on screen at your local googleplex, but to said marketing wonk I'll ask one simple question: How much money was lost when the studio tampered with a film causing it to be nothing but a soulless, mediocre piece of its former self? (The question is rhetorical, since my research provided the answer of about $60 million.)
And that brings me to my last point, which is: $85 million to make Showtime? I don't understand how this could be since I didn't see that budget up on the screen. This was a movie that had a couple of big stunts and a couple of effects. But $85 million? Sheesh! I'm in the wrong business. (As a comparison, the extravagant The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring "only" had a budget of $109 million, yet managed to have a mind-blowing set or some sort of special effect in just about every frame of the film.)
Showtime is a mostly harmless cop/buddy film that ads little to the genre but manages to help wile away 90 minutes. It might be worth a rental if there's nothing better on the shelves at the local Megabuster Video, but there are far better movies waiting for you there.
Showtime is free to go on a technicality, but I'll be keeping my eye on everyone involved until my Captain makes me turn in my gun and badge.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• HBO First Look: The Making of Showtime
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