[Screen It]

(2002) (Robert De Niro, Eddie Murphy) (PG-13)

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Comedy: A veteran detective tries to find and stop a criminal all while dealing with being forced to appear on a reality TV show that's focusing on him and his new, but inexperienced and camera-friendly partner.
Mitch Preston (ROBERT DE NIRO) in a detective working for the L.A.P.D. who's been on the force for 28 years. Trey Sellars (EDDIE MURPHY) is a police officer with considerably less experience and a hankering to be an actor. When Trey gets into the middle of Mitch busting two criminals -- Rerun (TJ CROSS) and Lazy Boy (MOS DEF) - and lets one of them get away when he mistakes Mitch for a thug, the detective is none too happy and he takes it out on a nearby TV cameraman who's in the way by shooting his camera.

Having seen that display of hostility, TV producer Chase Renzi (RENE RUSSO) comes up with the idea for a new reality show revolving around the life of a cop like Mitch. He obviously has no interest in appearing in such a show, but Capt. Winship (FRANKIE R. FAISON) informs him that the only way they'll get a network lawsuit dropped against them is for him to do so.

Chase realizes that Mitch will need a partner and obviously draws the attention of Trey when she puts out a casting call for such a character. Mitch adamantly refuses to allow Trey to be his partner, but Chase, who likes the thought and sight of antagonistic sparks between the two, makes it happen. With the aid of her assistant Annie (DRENA DE NIRO) and director Williams Shatner (WILLIAM SHATNER), Chase starts production of the show, hoping to make Mitch and his environs more TV friendly.

As he reluctantly goes through such training and dealing with Trey as his camera-friendly partner, Mitch tries to solve a series of crimes involving Cesar Vargas (PEDRO DAMIAN) and the massive artillery he uses during them, all while becoming a celebrity due to the airing of the TV show that's been named Showtime.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Ever since Allen Funt's "Candid Camera" show introduced what would eventually be called "reality TV" more than half a century ago, the line between reality and fiction in such programming has steadily become ever more blurred. That's because producers and networks types often tinker with the material -- obviously and secretly - in hopes of making things more interesting.

One need only look at the recent hubbub related to "Survivor" to note such artificiality, and that makes you wonder how many other shows, such as "Cops," might have been tampered with. Of course, that show - that follows police officers around on duty - is obviously edited, with the more exciting moments being what makes it onto the air rather than the paperwork or the principals sitting around and waiting for something to happen.

In "Showtime," the big "what if" premise ponders the effect of creative types not necessarily editing the material, but rather fabricating the settings and "characters" who, this time around, are real cops forced and/or volunteering to appear in such a show.

While that sounds like a clever idea for a film, and it does occasionally generate some laughs, it's far more successful in concept than in what finally hits the big screen. The biggest reason for that is that director Tom Dey (who made his debut with 2000's "Shanhai Noon") and screenwriters Keith Sharon (making his debut) and Alfred Gough & Miles Millar ("Shanghai Noon," "Made Men") accidentally or purposefully allow the film to turn into what it's initially satirizing. Namely, that's a Hollywood cop movie with all of the accompanying and stereotypical trappings.

That's despite an amusing opening where Robert De Niro - playing a typical, gruff, intimidating and no-nonsense detective - addresses a group and informs them that Hollywood movies about cops are fake and filled with things - such as having to choose between colored wires on bombs, wild car chases or jumping from rooftop to rooftop - that never happen in real life police careers.

The funny thing is that his near drill sergeant approach isn't being delivered to green cadets, but instead to rather young, bewildered and frightened elementary school students. It's a good moment that certainly starts the movie off with a bang and on the right foot.

The sad thing is that despite that true observation and the introduced hope that we might actually be treated to an intelligent cop comedy, the proceedings quickly and then progressively turn into exactly what they were apparently designed to satirize. Now, that potentially could have been fine had De Niro's character reacted in shock or disbelief at such events repeatedly occurring in the story. Yet, that's not the case and his character ultimately is one of the guiltiest in creating or participating in such stereotypical Hollywood cop behavior.

Not only does he shoot a video camera from a TV cameraman's hands - an act that would certainly bring about his immediate dismissal regardless of the inevitable lawsuits - but he also starts a fight in a busy nightclub while cameras are rolling, illegally breaks into another person's house with a search warrant, etc.

Some might counter that with the fact that the film is a comedy and that such nitpicking shouldn't matter. I agree in general, but the filmmakers immediately contradict that character's initial beliefs and statements and then don't do anything particularly funny or novel with that to make us forget or ignore the fact.

We've already seen films such as "EdTV" and "Series 7: The Contenders" spoof reality TV programming and comedies such as "The Naked Gun" films and "Loaded Weapon" do the same for the mismatched partner/cop buddy pictures. Here, the filmmakers introduce the satirical concept of no-nonsense cop being forced to appear on partially fabricated realty show with an overeager, show business hungry partner, but then don't do anything unique, imaginative or overly hilarious with the material. Beyond the presence of all of the cameras, there aren't many fun or clever complications or comical situations introduced into the mix.

Sure, they have the producers give the detective a new vehicle and newly decorated apartment that clash with his usual blue-collar grubbiness, but those are too easy of marks to shoot for. While they occasionally elicit a chuckle or two, they don't go far enough to make this as entertaining as it seems like it might have been. For instance, I kept waiting for the producers to fabricate crimes and criminals for the cops to react to, or conversely have the officers believe that was the case when they were dealing with the real thing, but that doesn't happen beyond Murphy's character creating one as his "audition."

In short, we simply get Robert De Niro ("The Score," "Meet the Parents") and Eddie Murphy ("Shrek," "Bowfinger") doing their normal shtick or slight caricatures thereof. Granted, the two make the film relatively easy to watch, but their material is far too easy, redundant (both in the film and to what they've done in the past) and predictable for them.

If they think that anyone will be surprised that De Niro will play the irritated, gruff cop who eventually loosens up, that Murphy will play his typical style character who becomes a better cop by the end, or that they'll eventually become buddies and work together to take care of the obligatory villain in the big climactic showdown, then they obviously don't know their audience as well as it knows them.

Speaking of the villain, Pedro Damian ("Collateral Damage") tries to do his best version of Alan Rickman -- smugly smiling when not acting menacingly -- as "Die Hard's" Hans Gruber, but isn't as successful, mainly due to the writing. Rene Russo ("Big Trouble," "The Thomas Crown Affair") appears as the show's producer, but can't do anything with her weakly written part, while William Shatner and Johnnie Cochran show up as themselves in cameo bits.

While dyed-in-the-wool fans of De Niro and Murphy might enjoy what's offered here, it simply isn't as good as others will probably be expecting or hoping. In the end, the film comes off feeling as if the filmmakers forgot what they were doing and allowed the piece to turn into what it initially was satirizing. Purposeful or accidental, that and the lackluster results undermine the overall effort. Accordingly, "Showtime" rates as just a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed March 12, 2002 / Posted March 15, 2002

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