If Robert De Niro doesn’t stop starring in pictures as cops forced to contend with guys who crave to become reality TV celebrities, his rep could take a stiff shot to the midsection. As if his grim outing on the subject last year, “15 Minutes,” were not enough, now we’ve got the purportedly comic flip side, “Showtime,” which is just as bad. A shrill, strained and shallow riff on a tired idea involving two real-life cops enlisted to play themselves as a TV crew follows them on their rounds, this unattractively made Warner Bros. release looks to ring up some nice opening round change based on the comedic promise of the De Niro-Eddie Murphy pairing, but looks to fall short of both actors’ B.O. standards for comedy once the word gets out about promise unfulfilled.
“Being a police officer is not what you see on television,” De Niro’s LAPD detective Mitch Preston insists to a bunch of schoolchildren in the opening scene. A no-nonsense 28-year vet, Preston is a curmudgeonly loner who takes risks to do his job and certainly isn’t interested in any special attention for doing so.
By contrast, Murphy’s Trey Sellars would seem to be the force’s resident clown, a marginally competent patrol officer who spends altogether too much time auditioning for cop roles on TV. So, natch, when pushy reality show producer Chase Renzi (Rene Russo) gets a greenlight for six episodes of a new series that will document the exploits of two partners, one guess whom she wants as her team.
Coerced into participating, Mitch can’t abide Trey’s foolishness and lack of smarts as a real policeman, although the latter’s pranks and extroverted personality play well on television; as Trey says at one point, “I’m ain’t no Sam Jackson, but I’m talented.”
Much of the desired humor is supposed to turn on the paradox of the mediocre officer looking good on TV and the cop’s cop coming off as an amateur onscreen. For instance, when T.J. Hooker himself, William Shatner, is enlisted to give the guys tips on how to do “real” cop moves like rolling off the hood of a car, Mitch can’t do a thing, leading Shatner to exclaim, “This guy is the worst actor I have ever seen.”
Remaining stabs at laughs have mostly to do with Chase’s efforts at making the stubborn, determinedly solitary Mitch more TV-friendly by giving him a makeover involving darkening his graying hair, replacing his nondescript car with a Hummvee (Trey gets a Corvette) and redecorating his homely bachelor’s abode in gaudy colors, prompting Mitch to scoff, “It looks like a gay porno star lives here.”
Effectively turned into Starsky and Hutch, Mitch and Trey get involved in some very generic law enforcement antics with some drug dealing gangstas, one of whom is rubbed out by their boss, the flamboyant Vargas (Pedro Damian), who totes around a machine gun with bazooka-like power.
“Story” concocted by producer Jorge Saralegui is a situation, not a plot, and screenwriters Keith Sharon, Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, latter two of whom penned “Shanghai Noon,” the one previous feature of present director Tom Dey, have struggled to come up with enough material even for the mercifully brief hour-and-a-half running time.
De Niro and Murphy look like they were having a better time slumming through this than audiences will have watching them, an impression fortified by the closing credits outtakes. Playing a stridently aggressive and insincere spokeswoman for everything that’s worst about television, Russo has arguably never been unappealing onscreen before, but apparently there’s a first time for everything.
Everyone else looks like they’re just punching the clock. The one surprise is a guy who looks just like Johnnie Cochran briefly appearing as the arrogant defense attorney of a young gangsta; lo and behold, the final cast crawl reveals that it really is Johnnie L. Cochran Jr.
Shot in murky, muddy colors, pic has a notably ugly look for a major studio production.