- The Washington Times - Friday, March 15, 2002

"Showtime" actually is ready for showtime. While it's difficult to think of a movie co-starring Eddie Murphy and Robert De Niro as something of a sleeper, it was easy to underestimate this zestful, bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed odd-couple farce about Los Angeles cops before seeing it.

I labored under the misapprehension that it was a retread of the expendable 1991 police comedy thriller "The Hard Way," in which Michael J. Fox played a callow young actor eager to hang out with hard-bitten detective James Woods.

Last week's "All About the Benjamins" was predicated on similar buddy-movie conventions, although without the racial-integration gambit.

Expert and so proficient that it's over and done with in an invigorating 92 minutes, "Showtime" now arrives to outclass both these forerunners, while also reminding non-enthusiasts of the overblown and ponderous shortcomings of the "Lethal Weapon" movies.

Mr. De Niro, enhancing his newfound reputation as an ideal sidekick for comedians, enters first as gruff force veteran Mitch Preston, so humorless in his devotion to duty that he can't lighten up when addressing an audience of elementary school children. The clever switch on the "Hard Way" setup is that Mr. Murphy is also a cop, Trey Sellars, but a rookie cop with avid acting aspirations.

Always on the lookout for performance and self-promotion opportunities, Trey blunders into an improbable show-business partnership with Mitch by intruding on a drug bust that also has attracted a crew of mobile TV snoops.

The ensuing uproar obliges Mitch to appease his captain (Frankie R. Faison) by agreeing to be the grizzled, reluctant half of the team selected to represent the LAPD in a "reality" series titled "Showtime." Trey, an inevitable choice as the younger, eager-beaver co-star, is also responsible for the title, which seems a natural to producer Chase Renzi, wittily embodied by "Lethal Weapon" holdover Rene Russo.

Slightly desperate for a hit, Miss Renzi has wheedled a six- episode commitment out of her boss, a very amusing executive brat as embodied by Peter Jacobson in an early sequence that leaves you wishing vainly for an encore or two with him.

The filmmakers are more generous with a minor character played by T.J. Cross, a felon called ReRun. He gets a delightfully sustained sequence of spilling the beans to Mr. Murphy, posing as an irresistibly solicitous high-pressure TV personality.

The general secret to the movie's humorous success is that it pretends to scorn all the cliches of cop fiction, deemed unworthy of an officer as hard-nosed as Mitch, and then systematically has it both ways.

"Showtime" gleefully alternates between kidding cliches and reactivating them, especially when staging thrill sequences during the finale, contrived to culminate with engulfment and cliffhanging stunts on top of the Bonaventure Hotel.

If you're pretending to wreck a joint, I think it's preferable to choose a site like the Bonaventure, rather than a domestic sanctuary, such as the repeatedly trashed and demolished home of Danny Glover's character in the "Lethal Weapon" series, which was always indiscrimate about laying waste to settings.

"Showtime" also gets better mileage out of the reality-TV pretext than the disappointing "Ed TV." There's a funnier source of resistance in Mitch, contrasted with a source of showboating cooperation in Trey.

Equipping their vehicles and residences with miniature cameras gives Mr. De Niro abundant opportunities to recoil from invasions of privacy and Mr. Murphy equally abundant opportunities to welcome them.

Indeed, Trey can scarcely start a conversation without recognizing how much better it would be to play every remark and gesture to the camera.

Tom Dey, who juggled Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson masterfully in the Western setting of "Shanghai Noon," demonstrates identical aptitude with Mr. De Niro and Mr. Murphy in the contemporary surroundings of "Showtime."

He may have earned the right of first refusal for all buddy comedies for the next several years.

The screenplay, credited to Keith Sharon, Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, is good at several premeditated devices. For example, it delivers a very funny and satisfying "bonding" scene between Trey and Mitch after spending considerable time mocking the very idea of bonding scenes.

Evidently, the framework was loose enough also to accommodate such gags as a bit appearance by attorney Johnnie Cochrane and an inside-joke interlude with William Shatner, playing himself as the alleged director of the "Showtime" pilot, demonstrating vintage T.J. Hooker moves for his novice actors.

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