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De Niro and Murphy roles have a familiar ring in 'Showtime'

Friday, March 15, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Hollywood only believes in the reality it creates, which keeps trying to spill over into wherever it is the rest of us live. Perhaps that explains the O.J. Simpson trial, a professional wrestler becoming the governor of Minnesota and the Disney executives who run ABC calling "Nightline" irrelevant.


RATING: PG-13 for action violence, language and some drug content.

STARRING: Robert De Niro, Eddie Murphy, Rene Russo.


WEB SITE: www2.warnerbros



Such absurdities virtually defy satire, even -- perhaps especially -- when Hollywood tries to make fun of itself. "The Truman Show" was a brilliant movie about a man whose entire life was made for TV. Hollywood hated it because it exposed movie reality as something fake that can look and feel all too real.

That leaves us with movies like "Showtime," which can be described as affectionate parody -- or having your cake and eating it, too. "Showtime" turns into the very thing it is lampooning, like George Will castigating liberals for being sanctimonious.

Eddie Murphy is Trey Sellers, a uniformed LAPD officer who aspires to be an actor. One night he stumbles upon a man carrying a gun in his belt acting suspicious in a rundown area of town. He radios for backup, attracting every TV news helicopter in town.

The problem is that his suspicious gunman is undercover LAPD detective Mitch Preston (Robert De Niro), who is trying to make a drug bust. The copters alarm the dealers, one of whom tries to shoot his way out of trouble with the Arnold Schwarzenegger of guns -- this thing can literally blow a house down.

The clueless Trey tries to arrest Mitch, who is further impeded by a TV camera crew. Furious and frustrated, he shoots the camera right off the guy's shoulder -- and ends up on the front page of all the newspapers.

His boss orders him to clean up the PR mess by agreeing to star in a new reality series produced by Chase Renzi (Rene Russo), who thinks his lone-wolf sensibility and his rough edges will appeal to viewers -- with a little help, of course.

A young, hip partner would draw better demographics. Hey, what about Trey Sellers? Only Mitch cares that he's a terrible cop. And, of course, Mitch has to be sympathetic. Hey, let's dress up his apartment and give him a dog! That'll show his real personality.

On one level, of course, it's supposed to be preposterous. "Cops" is one thing, but even a Los Angeles police commander wouldn't let cameras follow an undercover detective 24/7, and the police union would raise holy hell at him being forced to do it against his will.

One of the funniest parts of the movie involves William Shatner, who played TV cop T.J. Hooker, demonstrating the correct way to jump across the hood of a car or barrel roll into a room. Mitch, it seems, doesn't look realistic enough.

"He's the worst actor I've ever seen," says the notoriously hammy Shatner about the man played by the two-time Oscar winner De Niro. Shatner has developed a whole new career out of spoofing himself. But so has De Niro, more's the pity. At least he and Murphy demonstrate a decent "buddy cop" chemistry.

Despite an opening scene in which a staid De Niro says cops don't get into car chases involving multiple crashes and autos bursting into flame on two wheels, "Showtime" ends up putting him into situations exactly that outrageous. Director Tom Dey ("Shanghai Noon") and screenwriters Keith Sharon, Alfred Gough and Miles Millar don't see anything strange about that. Reality is whatever Hollywood says it is, no matter how illogical it may be.

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