The Robert De Niro comedy “Showtime” is a good example of a film that really works when it sticks to its selling points, but becomes embarrassing when it strays. A case in point: When De Niro’s Detective Preston sighs and rolls his eyes at the absurdity of formulaic and silly cop shows, the movie works; but when Preston and his wiseass partner Trey (Eddie Murphy) are chasing a gunrunner/bank robber/all-around-bad-guy, the movie shows signs of schizophrenia.
Or how about this: When TV producer Rene Russo throws a newspaper on the desk of her boss and exclaims that this is the network’s new hit show, the TV exec replies matter-of-factly, “You know I don’t read.” Now that is funny stuff.
The whole thing starts after tough cop Preston shoots up a TV newsman’s camera and gets an ultimatum from his boss: Join Russo’s TV show or get toss from the force. Being that he’s a born cop and a great Detective, Preston reluctantly agrees to team up with Eddie Murphy’s fellow officer/aspiring actor Trey Sellars on Russo’s buddy cop show. The buddy cop show is being directed by William Shatner of TV’s “Star Trek” fame, here playing himself. Another funny joke: While trying to direct his two new stars, Shatner talks about his days as T.J. Hooker, and uses it as inspiration for his actors.
And then there’s that thing with the gunrunner/killer/bank robber and a hint of romance between Russo and De Niro that goes absolutely nowhere fast. Neither of these two subplots are all that interesting, and thankfully the gunrunner (played by Pedro Damian) only shows up once in the beginning, once in the middle, and then once more at the end, for a total of 10 to maybe 15 minutes of total screen time.
For the most part, “Showtime” is funny when it lampoons the workings of a TV network show, with Rene Russo’s abrasive and completely clueless (not to mention improbably named) Chase Renzi turning Preston’s life upside down. Not only does she have his old car towed away and replaces it with a humvee without his knowledge, but she redecorates his house and gets him a new dog because “research shows” it’s what the audience identifies with!
De Niro has made a second career out of playing straight men in comedies. He did likewise in “Meet the Parents” and similarly in “Analyze That.” De Niro is good here, and all the real, unforced comedy revolves around his take-no-prisoners Preston character’s interaction with others. The man really knows how to make the right faces to show his displeasure or appreciation of a situation or a person, that’s for sure.
Of course Eddie Murphy is suppose to be the comedy sidekick, but he tries way too hard. The result is an Eddie Murphy that comes across as too flamboyant, sometimes too irritating, and oftentimes just not funny. Every now and then you can see it in Murphy’s eyes — that he knows he’s doing the same shtick since “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Coming to America.” In Murphy’s heart of hearts, one gets the feeling he knows his comedy routine is tired and old, and so is he. Unlike his co-star, who has carved out a second successful niche in the arena of comedy, Murphy is still stuck in the ’80s, doing the same old stuff. (Yes, I am talking about the laugh, too, Eddie.)
“Showtime” is funny when it sticks to what it does best — poking fun at the TV business and cop movie cliché, and it’s painful to watch when it tries to go straight. Like its cop buddies, Preston and Trey, “Showtime” seems to have a split personality. It should have settled on one and stuck to it, because not doing so means it’s only half-funny, and the other half is just…awkward.
For example: There’s a running gag about one of Russo’s cameraman being a former war correspondent, but who proves himself incapable of running a few feet in any direction without stumbling into a fire hydrant crotch-first or tumbling into a pool. And then there’s a scene where the gunrunner’s gang blows up a house with heavy-caliber weapons, mercilessly killing the two occupants inside.
The cameraman gag — funny. The house gag — not funny. Luckily, there were more funny moments than the not-funny ones.
Tom Dey (director) / Jorge Saralegui, Keith Sharon, Alfred Gough, Miles Millar (screenplay)
CAST: Robert De Niro …. Mitch Preston
Eddie Murphy …. Trey Sellars
Rene Russo …. Chase Renzi