Review: ‘Metro’

The hard sell for cop-actioner "Metro" will once again be multiple Eddie Murphys, but all inhabiting the same body. Will fans of "The Nutty Professor's" Sherman Klump, a role for which the National Society of Film Critics just gave Murphy a best actor nod, go for Scott Roper, police hostage negotiator extraordinaire?

The hard sell for cop-actioner “Metro” will once again be multiple Eddie Murphys, but all inhabiting the same body. Will fans of “The Nutty Professor’s” Sherman Klump, a role for which the National Society of Film Critics just gave Murphy a best actor nod, go for Scott Roper, police hostage negotiator extraordinaire? Chances are they will, up to a point. Roper is hilarious and mournful, serious and light, efficiently instinctive and borderline psychotic, a romantic and a hard-ass. This runaway vanity production should scoop up some solid quick coin as a mainstream winter attraction.

First 10 minutes telescope a number of subplots and character connections, all in the service of presenting a broadening Murphy: Roper recites a crowd-pleasing comic monologue while listening to a horse race on his car radio (he’s a compulsive gambler); he speeds to a dangerous hostage situation where a junkie holds a number of hostages in a bank, and in which his negotiating banter and expert marksmanship establish his savvy and his physical prowess; outside the bank, he runs into on again-off again girlfriend Ronnie (British newcomer Carmen Ejogo), a photojournalist who covers his beat; and he quickly meets his new partner and bargaining trainee, SWAT sharpshooter Kevin McCall (Michael Rapaport), setting up the male bonding component.

Immediately afterward, he reveals his sensitivity after the murder of his close friend and police colleague Lt. Sam Baffert (Art Evans) by the film’s intellectual, psychotic villain, Michael Korda (Michael Wincott), a jewel thief whose battles with Roper will fuel the rest of the film. (The character’s name is somebody’s idea of an in-joke).

This initial cohesion soon fizzles. Randy Feldman’s predictable script, cliched characters and perilous scenes come off like an assemblage of TV police episodes, a feeling unmitigated by director Thomas Carter, a vet of “Hill Street Blues,” “Miami Vice” and “St. Elsewhere,” despite the frenetic visual coverage.

Roper’s relationship with Ronnie is meant to provide romantic lulls between the carnage, but the beautiful Ejogo is so lifeless that the love scenes feel like a tourniquet around the otherwise fluid movie. Ronnie is as extraneous as the film’s pretty, never-ending shots through windows in the rain. Rapaport is wasted as McCall, a privileged, analytical white guy (“Huck Finn,” Roper calls the fellow, who reads books like “Strategies and Countermeasures in Hostage Situations”) and who exists merely to foreground and give value to Roper’s fast-talking jive and right-on instincts.

The evil Korda is far too overdrawn as a heady criminal. His softly enunciated, malevolent utterances are the sort that have been heard many times before, and his distinctive forms of brutality – handing over a hostage’s ear, attaching one character to a roundtable, mechanical buzz saw that evokes “The Bride of Frankenstein” – are more laughable than threatening. (Korda’s attempt at revenge from behind bars, his thoroughly unconvincing escape and his final vendetta are just as ludicrous.)

Korda does bring out hidden sides of Roper’s psyche: a latent pathological nature and the capacity to be a thief himself. This theme of the double is a sharp touch, and the scenes in which Murphy maniacally plays it out burst from the rest of the proceedings in a way that wrecked cars on city hills and trucks in flames cannot.

Still, the extended central action sequence, in which Roper and McCall, riding in an old Caddy convertible, chase a cable car that Korda has commandeered and inadvertently accelerated, is outstanding. It also affords Roper the opportunity to transcend physical heroics and vie for savior status. But then, Roper as a superman is built into the whole enterprise.

Murphy and the filmmakers clearly want to establish Murphy as an action hero in the mold of Stallone and Van Damme (Carter wrote the Stallone starrer “Tango & Cash” and co-scripted the Van Damme feature “Nowhere to Run”), but they lack the courage of their convictions. Pic is bracketed by scenes of Eddie the funny man, just in case anybody forgets the performer’s roots.

Making the most of numerous unusual S.F. locations, lenser Fred Murphy has stylized even the most violent scenes to great effect. William Elliott’s production design serves the story well, and Peter Berger’s rapid editing invigorates the action scenes. Steve Porcaro’s music, though, is a bit of a problem: Although it generally signals an upcoming mood rather conventionally, it is sometimes used feebly to lull the viewer into false expectations. These attempts do little to ward off the feeling that you’ll ultimately get whatever you expect.

After the nominal climax, filmmakers have tacked on some needless additional “episodes.” Worst is a romantic scene on a holiday beach (Half Moon Bay, Calif., sitting in for Tahiti), which is a flimsy excuse for some bare T&A.

Metro

Production

A Buena Vista release of a Touchstone Pictures presentation in association with Caravan Pictures of a Roger Birnbaum production. Produced by Birnbaum. Executive producers, Mark Lipsky, Riley Kathryn Ellis. Co-producers, George W. Perkins, Ray Murphy Jr., Randy Feldman. Directed by Thomas Carter. Screenplay, Randy Feldman.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor), Fred Murphy; editor, Peter E. Berger; music, Steve Porcaro; production design, William Elliott; art direction, Greg Papalia; set design, James Claytor, Dawn Swiderski, William R. Beck; set decoration, Jerie Kelter; costume design, Ha Nguyen; sound (Dolby digital), Willie Burton; associate producer-assistant director, Michael Waxman; second unit director-stunt coordinator, Mickey Gilbert; casting, Ellen Chenoweth. Reviewed at Gotham Cinema, N.Y., Jan. 9, 1997. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 117 MIN.

With

Scott Roper - Eddie Murphy Kevin McCall - Michael Rapaport Michael Korda - Michael Wincott Ronnie Tate - Carmen Ejogo Capt. Frank Solis - Denis Arndt Lt. Sam Baffert - Art Evans Earl - Donal Logue Clarence Teal - Paul Ben-Victor Detective Kimura - Kim Miyori
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