When Robert De Niro and Eddie Murphy decided to team up for the cop action-comedy "Showtime," they hooked up with exactly the right people to give a fresh and funny satirical twist to an old formula. They are director Tom Dey and writers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, who also plunked Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson and Lucy Liu down in the Old West in "Shanghai Noon" and came up with a barrel of laughs. Working from a story by co-producer Jorge Saralegui and with a new writer, Keith Sharon, the "Shanghai Noon" team has done just as well by De Niro, Murphy and Rene Russo.
From frame one "Showtime" displays an ingenuity, cleverness and briskness that never flags. We meet De Niro's Mitch Preston, a detective who's a 28-year veteran of the LAPD, when he's giving a no-nonsense classroom lecture--only to discover he's not at the Police Academy, but in a grammar school in which an increasingly alarmed teacher at last breaks in to ask tremulously if there aren't any "fun days" on the police force he could relate to the kiddies.
By the same token, we meet Murphy's Trey Sellars when he's pulling out all stops in acting--tough only for the camera to pull away and reveal that he's auditioning for a TV cop show. We're in for sleight of hand from the start. Mitch is a crusty professional who prides himself on having mastered painstaking police procedures and looks askance at the leaping from roof to roof and incredible chases that go on in movies and TV shows about cops. While the irrepressible Trey really would like to make detective on his third try, he also sees himself as only one role away from acting stardom--never mind that his previous experience has consisted only of one-line bits.
The trick, of course, is to bring these two wildly different guys together, and the filmmakers take a contagious, sneaky pleasure in the way they pull it off.
In essence, eager-beaver Trey inadvertently barges in on Mitch in the midst of setting up a drug sting, and the enraged veteran winds up shooting out a TV camera, putting him in the doghouse at headquarters.
The footage falls into the hands of ambitious network producer Chase Renzi (Rene Russo), who knows the makings of a live reality cop show when she sees them. She sells the LAPD brass on the benefits of such a show; Mitch's captain (Frankie R. Faison) orders Mitch not only to participate, but to team up with Trey, who has wasted no time in making sure he impresses Chase with his ability to improve upon reality.
Now the fun begins in earnest. De Niro's cautious Mitch and Murphy's headstrong Trey play off each other hilariously. The filmmakers send up all the excesses and manipulativeness of "reality" shows, which of course allows them to stage one of the most spectacular chases and pile-ups imaginable and a big climactic scene in a Bonaventure Hotel penthouse worthy of a Schwarzenegger action spectacle.
Along the way, Russo and her dedicated assistant (Drena De Niro) are continually embellishing the images of the recalcitrant Mitch and the gleeful Trey, deciding that Mitch should drive a Humvee and Trey a silver Corvette, and that Mitch's apartment, a drab late-'60s-early-'70s time capsule, should get a thoroughly modern makeover. Chase doesn't stop there: no dull, overcrowded squad room will do for her cops, so she carves out of the crowded space a sleek private office for the duo. The filmmakers understand the importance of emphasizing characterization over plot when they have stars who can do so much with the people they're playing.
The fallout from Trey's intrusion into Mitch's undercover operation provides just enough of a thread to string together the barrage of repartee between the stars to provide a neat beginning, middle and end.
Even the villain (Pedro Damian), a suave drug lord and night club proprietor who has just invested in a cache of new armor-piercing hand-held machine guns, is not without a sense of humor. William Shatner and attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. amusingly play themselves, with Shatner coaching Mitch and Trey on how to play TV cops. Kadeem Hardison has a wonderful scene as a hapless minor crook gulled by Trey.
"Showtime" is a fine-looking film with a bouncy score and a clutch of lively songs for deft punctuation. The production design by Jeff Mann and his team is especially smart and telling, down to the last gritty detail of Mitch's apartment. "Showtime" leaves us with the feeling that we haven't seen the last of Mitch and Trey.
MPAA rating: PG-13, for action violence, language and some drug content. Times guidelines: Action violence, language standard for the genre; drugs referred to only as contraband.
Robert De Niro ... Mitch Preston
Eddie Murphy ... Trey Sellars
Rene Russo ... Chase Renzi
Frankie R. Faison ... Capt. Winship
William Shatner ... Himself
A Warner Bros. Pictures presentation in association with Village Roadshow Pictures and NPV Entertainment of a Material production in association with Tribeca Productions. Director Tom Dey. Producers Jorge Saralegui and Jane Rosenthal. Executive producers Will Smith, James Lasssiter, Eric McLeod and Bruce Berman. Screenplay by Keith Sharon and Alfred Gough & Miles Millar; from a story by Jorge Saralegui. Cinematographer Thomas Kloss. Editor Billy Weber. Music Alan Silvestri. Special effects coordinator Mike Meinardus. Visual effects producers Jacqui Lopez, Michelle Eisenreich. Production designer Jeff Mann. Art director Geoffrey Hubbard. Set designers George R. Lee, Bill Hiney, Nick Navarro, Back Taylor. Set decorator Tessa Posnansky.
In general release.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times