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De Niro and Murphy Click
on March 21, 2002
If you've seen the trailer for this movie, you pretty much know what to expect, because what you see here is what you get. And even if you haven't seen the previews, it won't take you long to pick up on what you're in for-- specifically, a good time and plenty of laughs-- from this clever satire of "Reality TV" shows and "Buddy Cop" movies, "Showtime," directed by Tom Dey, starring Robert De Niro and Eddie Murphy.
Mitch Preston (De Niro) is a detective with the L.A.P.D., and he's good at what he does; but working a case one night, things suddenly go south when another cop, Trey Sellars (Murphy), inadvertently intervenes, a television news crew shows up and Mitch loses his cool, which results in a lawsuit by the television station that's going to cost the department some big bucks. Except that they may be able to get around it, thanks to Chase Renzi (Rene Russo), who works for the station and likes what she sees in Mitch-- enough to pitch an idea to her boss for a "Reality" cop show, that would feature none other than Mitch Preston, whom Chase sees as a real life "Dirty Harry."
Her boss likes the idea and gives Chase the green light. Now all she has to do is convince Mitch to participate, which shouldn't be too hard, since the station has agreed to drop the lawsuit if he will do the show. But Mitch is a cop, not an actor, and he wants nothing to do with any of it-- that is until he has a heart-to-heart with his boss, Captain Winship (Frankie Faison), who puts Mitch's future into succinct perspective for him. And just like that, the show is on. Oh, yes, there's one more thing; for the show, Mitch is going to need a partner. And who do you suppose they're going to come up with for that? Let's put it this way: Trey Sellars is more than one of the usual suspects.
This is Dey's second film as a director, his first being "Shanghai Noon,"-- also a comedy-- and he's definitely showing a penchant for the genre. From the opening frames he establishes a pace that keeps the story moving right along, and he allows his stars to make the most of their respective talents and personal strengths, including their impeccable timing. With stars like De Niro and Murphy, Dey, of course, had a leg up on this project to begin with, but he's the one who keeps it on track, demonstrating that he knows what works, achieving just the right blend of physical comedy and action, and employing the subtleties of the dialogue to great effect.
There isn't a more natural actor in the business than De Niro, and he steps into Mitch's skin like he was born to it. And after years of doing hard-edge, cutting drama (in which he turned in one remarkable performance after another), with such films as "Analyze This," "Meet the Parents" and now this one, he has firmly established his proficiency for doing comedy, as well. Mitch is not an especially complex character; he is, in fact, something of an "ordinary" guy, but therein lies the challenge for the actor-- to make him believable, to make him seem like the guy who could be your neighbor and just another member of the community. And on all counts, De Niro succeeds. He's Mitch, the guy you run into at the grocery store or the bank, or say "good morning" to on your way to work; who likes to watch the game on TV and has a life, just like you and me, who happens to make his living by being a cop. It's the character Mitch has to be to make this film work, because it makes the "ordinary guy in extraordinary circumstances" angle credible. It's one of those role-- and work-- that is often wrongly dismissed out-of-hand, because it looks so easy; and, of course, this is what makes De Niro so exceptional-- he does make it look easy, and he does it with facility.
As Trey Sellars, Eddie Murphy turns in a winning performance, as well, and it's a role that fits him like the proverbial glove. Trey is a cop, but also an aspiring actor-- and a bad one-- and it gives Murphy the opportunity to play on the over-exuberant side of his personality (reigned in enough by Dey, however, to keep him from soaring over-the-top into Jim Carrey territory), which works perfectly for this character and this film. From his melodramatic take on a part during an audition, to his throwing out of one-liners-- delivered by looking directly into the camera (which as far as he's concerned isn't even there) while filming the "reality" show-- Murphy's a riot. And he has a chemistry with De Niro that really clicks (which is not unexpected, as this is another of De Niro's many talents; his ability to connect with and bring out the best in his co-stars, all of whom-- evidence will support-- are better at their craft after having worked with him, including the likes of Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken and Ed Harris, just to name a few). Most importantly, this is a part that allows Murphy to excel at what he does best, and he certainly makes the most of it.
Russo makes the most of her role as Chase, too, a character who isn't much of a stretch artistically, but whom she presents delightfully, with a strong, believable performance. And William Shatner (playing himself) absolutely steals a couple of scenes as the director of the show.
The supporting cast includes Drena De Niro (Annie), Pedro Damian (Vargas) and James Roday (Camera Man). Well crafted and delivered, "Showtime" is a comedy that's exactly what it is meant to be: Pure entertainment that provides plenty of laughs and a pleasant couple of hours that will have you chuckling for some time after. It's the magic of the movies.