on March 15, 2002 by Michael Tunison
   In taking aim at the “Cops”-style reality shows that have spread across the TV schedule like a virulent pop-cultural contagion in recent years, the Robert De Niro/Eddie Murphy action-comedy “Showtime” has picked an easy enough target to spoof. Despite the game exertions of its stars, however, this routine studio buddy flick is only marginally more satisfying than the vacuous boob-tube filler fare that inspired it.

   In a strange flip-flop on his role in last year's similarly themed (and equally run-of-the-mill) thriller “15 Minutes,” De Niro plays a tough-guy LAPD detective forced by the department to star in a reality series as a way of making amends for the bad press generated when he loses his temper and blows apart a TV camera at a crime scene. He's soon saddled with a Hollywood producer (“Get Shorty's” Rene Russo) intent on making his life more visually compelling for the home viewing audience, a patrolman sidekick (Murphy) more interested in breaking into acting than real police work, and innumerable cameras recording his every move as the sleuths attempt to track down who is responsible for supplying local crooks with powerful new assault weapons.

   Murphy's talent for high-energy hamming is such that he regularly wrenches laughs out of even the weakest material, but even this veteran movie-saver can only do so much with “Showtime's” second-rate gag writing and unengaging cop mystery plot. While De Niro has proved effective in broad comedy if given a strong character part to sink his famous chops into (“Midnight Run,” “Analyze This,” “Meet the Parents”), in this setting he can provide only minimal backup for his more inherently funny partner. Director Tom Dey demonstrated a knack for mixing action and idiosyncratic humor in his charming 2000 debut “Shanghai Noon,” but “Showtime's” uninspired send-up of TV cop show cliches mostly leaves him shooting blanks. Starring Robert De Niro, Eddie Murphy, Rene Russo, Frankie R. Faison and William Shatner. Directed by Tom Dey. Written by Keith Sharon, Alfred Gough and Miles Millar. Produced by Jorge Saralegui and Jane Rosenthal. A Warner Bros. release. Comedy/Action. Rated PG-13 for action violence, language and some drug content. Running time: 94 min

Tags: Robert De Niro, Eddie Murphy, Rene Russo, Frankie R. Faison, William Shatner, Tom Dey, Keith Sharon, Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Jorge Saralegui, Jane Rosenthal, Warner Brothers, Comedy, Action, LAPD, crime

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