In the summer of 2001, Hollywood was paralyzed with fear over the threat of strike by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). Because such a strike would surely have brought production to a halt if seen to fruition, the studios scrambled to find anything that they could throw into production before the end of June, whether or not it was ready for the cameras. As long as there were stars, familiarity and a marketing angle, it was greenlit. "Showtime" (IMDb listing) is the embarrassingly unfunny new comedy that perfectly captures the essence of a film drastically made before the SAG scare of 2001.
Mitch (Robert DeNiro) is a tough Los Angeles detective who has just uncovered a secret underground ring of high-tech weaponry being set upon the streets by a destructive Spanish kingpin (Pedro Damian). When Mitch goes too far and shoots at one of the pesky news cameras that get in his way, his department is sued, and is persuaded by an ambitious reality TV producer (Rene Russo) to force Mitch to star in the new "Cops" style series, "Showtime." Mitch's partner on the show is a fast-talking street cop named Trey (Eddie Murphy) who dreams of hanging up his gun and badge for an acting gig. This mismatched pair is set back out onto the street in search of the villain, but this time they are followed by intrusive cameras and a satellite truck capturing their every move.
Here I was only last week berating the Ice Cube comedy "All About The Benjamins" for being so formulaic, and here comes "Showtime," which travels back to an early 1990s day when Eddie Murphy's career was dying and Robert DeNiro couldn't buy a successful film. But at least "Benjamins" was loose and funny. "Showtime" is tight and restrictive; hell bent on entertaining, but without one robust idea or joke to its name.
Rene Russo has been very vocal recently saying that "Showtime" often went without a script during principal photography. Even without that prior knowledge, you can absolutely tell that director Tom Dey (director of the equally heinous "Shanghai Noon") and the cast were just making it up as they went along. There is no flow to the paper-thin story, and the laughs come about once every 90 minutes, not too good for an 89-minute feature. What remains in "Showtime" is negligence on behalf of the filmmakers to tell a simple action story and pepper it with laughs. It's not that hard to do, and Murphy did it rather well in his underrated 1997 actioner "Metro." Instead, Dey gets so wrapped up in his weaponry and explosions that he doesn't focus on the narrative in front of him, which forces this talent-free filmmaker to scramble to make sense of the plot before the end credits roll. "Showtime" is worse than your average violent mess, as it's readily obvious that some simple preproduction tinkering would've gone a long way to curing the ills of this script.
When faced with an acting titan like DeNiro, it is all the harder to admit when the actor trips over his own greed. Though DeNiro has been on a comedy roll lately, "Showtime" is beneath him. The film exploits his well-layered persona for cheap laughs and the nonexistent drama that Dey seems to believe is in the finished film. It's a paycheck role that DeNiro usually can rise above ("Ronin"), but here, he cannot. The usual bull-like intensity is lost in a film this clueless, and his newfound gifts for comedy are wasted because the film relies on DeNiro to come up with the jokes. Had Dey done a little homework, he would have known that DeNiro needs a rock steady script to pull off comedy.
Faring even worse is Eddie Murphy, who must somehow straddle the line between his "Doctor Dolittle" mildness and the Axel Foley wildcard sense of humor to form his character. Nothing is worse to see than a great comedian stuck in something dreadfully unfunny, and you can easily sense the desperation for any kind of humorous moment Murphy feels in his scenes. Murphy is a born comic, and to see Dey mute his gifts for PG-13 nonsense is just silly. This is the type of movie that considers itself hilarious to see Murphy simply mouth F-words when the man has built a career around profanity. And I won't even get into Rene Russo, who vamps wildly to even be heard above the two stars and all the pyro.
"Showtime" is a perfect example a film that needed to go back into development for another year. It's a shrill, tiresome movie that insults the audience by trying to use star power to find a way into their wallets.
Filmfodder Grade: D-