Lights! Camera! Action!

DeNiro is wasted in this lightweight cops-and-robbers farce.

Like the pithy punch line that anticipates in all its expectant elation the start of the circus, "Showtime" is the forerunner of an episode that could well pass off as the main monkey act!

Robert DeNiro is capable of comedy. After watching him grimace through much of his celluloid career, one tends to recall the poker face of his Scorcese days, and concludes the dozen lines on his face haven’t erupted from generous geniality.

But then he’s the Walter Matthau that can split you like a banana, scowl and all. Articulating very little, and emoting even less, one gets the notion he’d rather be shooting partridge somewhere than sticking around a film that’s obviously marketed as a cop comedy. But maybe that’s the reason you love to watch him do this.

Hollywood supposes it has cracked the comedic code for police pictures - team a white and a black man together, let the black have the larger voicebox, give the white a better gun and a wholesome intellect. Following the lines of winners like "Rush Hour", "Lethal Weapon" (perhaps the only exception to the voicebox x intellect algorithm), the outlandish "Men In Black", and the more immediate "Bad Company", "Showtime" deviates from the formula in that solving crime is almost like the byline in the script.

Mitch Preston (Robert DeNiro) is a hardnosed detective who’s working undercover to bust a drug deal. Right in the middle of his game plan walks in patrol officer Trey Sellars (Eddie Murphy) who thinks he’s on to something big, not recognizing Preston in his commoner getup. The crook escapes, the TV crews converge and Preston is very pissed, even shooting at an inquiring TV guy’s camera in his ire. This immediately gets him in the boondocks with the press. After all, if cops went about shooting at presspersons and their peripherals, they might as well get on the underside of the law!

One of the TV channel’s artful producers, Chase Renzi (Rene Russo), sees high ratings in a reality police show that will star man-of-the-hour Mitch Preston, recognizing that the public would love this no-nonsense cop. Having wangled an enforced deal with the chief inspector, Chase pulls a reluctant Preston in on the project. Deciding to give him a sidekick, they scout about the station, and finally set their eye on Trey Sellars. Trey, a former actor, attends film auditions in the day, but can never clinch the required role of a policeman in spite of being a real-life one himself.

Sellars is obviously thrilled at finally having his time before the camera, but his enthusiasm does little to help him bond with his sour partner. The rest is a parade of gaffes, funny faces and a lot of loud mouth. And of course, a stunt or two to loan it an affinity with its counter flicks.

This, to me, was the waste of an actor. DeNiro’s portrayed peevishness only makes Murphy look more the moron he’s supposed to. The chemistry that supplies the winning formula is palpably absent; each actor seems to discount the other, and this is apparent even when the two are on common ground.

One cannot always expect a storyline that scores, but even a fairly simple one such as this could have been dealt with more chutzpah than this displayed. Tom Dey managed some fantastic action shots, conceding that he has more where that came from. Actor William Shatner makes an appearance as the celebrated director who teaches the duo a thing or two about faking it in reality shows.

Watch it for it’s average comedic quotient, unless by the end of this, you decide you have no time for "Showtime".

This article was first published on 25 Jul 2002.