The biggest problem with the cop buddy movie genre is that thanks to movies like the Lethal Weapon series, it’s pretty much been done as well as it’s ever going to be. There is little that can be added to the genre to “re-energize” it. But, that doesn’t keep director Tom Dey (Shanghai Noon) from trying with Showtime.
Mitch Preston (Robert De Niro) is the old gruff stuck-in-his-ways detective. As he says in the film’s introduction he’s never done the crazy stuff we all see in the movies like riding a car into a fiery explosion. He lives in the mundane world of police business, doing his best to keep the creeps off the street and make the world a better place.
Trey Sellars (Eddie Murphy) is, as you might expect, the total opposite. A street cop with aspirations to be an actor, Trey wants the more glorious moments of life, the fame and fortune.
So as you might expect from a film of this genre, “two mismatched cops pair up and hilarious antics ensue”. What puts this film a step up from where it could have been is the plot device used to pair the two – Reality Television.
In the middle of an undercover operation gone bad Preston finds himself under the watchful eye of television cameras. In an effort to remove them from the equation, and from harm, Preston shoots one of the cameras. This little incident lands the police department in a multi-million dollar lawsuit, but the network is willing to settle for something else. They want to produce a reality TV show like Cops, in which they follow grumpy Mitch Preston. Of course he’s not really the camera friendly type, so they decide to partner him with Sellars, a ham who happens to be the cop that made Preston’s undercover operation go bad. So now you not only get “hilarious antics” from a mismatched cop duo, but also from the cameras and producer (Rene Russo).
Unfortunately that plot device ends up causing most of the film to ask the audience not only to suspend their sense of disbelief, but fold it up and toss it out a nearby window. While going to great lengths to make fun of “reality tv”, the audience is constantly reminded that no television company or police precinct would allow these things to happen.
So Showtime’s not a piece of art, and it’s not the caliber of other more defining cop buddy films like 48 Hours or Lethal Weapon; but it isn’t bad either. De Niro plays a good straight man, probably the best he’s done in any comedy, Murphy is spectacular as the preening, camera hungry Sellars. Also of note is an appearance by William Shatner, playing himself, as he seems apt to do as of late, teaching the camera rookies how T.J. (Hooker) would act.
All in all the film works, and can be funny at times, but suffers overall from a weak script and plot device. However, compared to a lot of the films that have come out lately passing themselves off as comedies, Showtime is at least a cut above.