review by Cynthia Fuchs, 15 March 2002
funny minority type
surely great pleasure to be taken in watching William Shatner play
himself. And for about four minutes, Showtime makes the most
of the opportunity. Shatner plays himself playing an expert adviser
for the film's titular cop-buddy-reality TV series, which stars two
"real" L.A. cops, grumpy twenty-eight-year veteran Mitch
(Robert De Niro) and dilettantish showboat Trey (Eddie Murphy), who
wants more than anything else to be a movie star.
Shatner looks on with increasing frustration, Mitch goes up on his
one line again and again. Meanwhile, Trey takes to heart every one
of Shatner's pointers on, say, how to slide off a car hood with élan
and how to arch an eyebrow for maximum TJ-Hooker effect.
Being such an accomplished self-parodist -- from his Saturday-Night-Live
minute ("Get a life!") to his more recent Priceline.com
ads -- Shatner plays these scenes to maximum Shatner effect,
remarking of Mitch, in overstated-aside fashion, "I've never
seen such a terrible actor in my life!" Ha ha ha.
one thing for Bill Shatner to play himself. It's quite another for
an entire movie to play him. The trouble with Showtime is
that it never lets up on its self-congratulatory wink-winking. This
isn't to say De Niro and Murphy can't do nifty and amusing
self-parody (see Meet the Parents and Bowfinger),
here, all the jokes are obvious and underwhelming. By the time Trey
is charging toward the camera for his umpteenth close-up, you're
really quite ready for the whole thing to be done with. And that's
only about twenty minutes in.
okay. Tom (Shanghai Noon) Dey's movie is not about anything
than what it is: a collision of buddy cops with reality TV, peppered
with shenanigans. Both genres, so formulaic, overdetermined by clichés
and stereotypes, are eminently accessible for parody. That the
parody is also a formula only doubles the fun. And so, you might
wonder, what's the point? Ahh, but there you would be wrong. There's
no wondering in formula. That's what makes it formula.
gears get grinding like so: Mitch begins as a "real" cop,
undercover to bust a "real" dealer (Mos Def, in a
depressing part, in fact, exactly the kind of part that his
character vehemently protested in Spike Lee's Bamboozled).
(All the character types and concepts here should appear in
scare-quotes to denote the hilarious irony they mean to represent,
but wouldn't that be tedious to read?) The bust goes wrong when
rookie uniform Trey mistakes Mitch for an actual criminal and calls
for back-up; the TV van is listening in, and when it arrives on the
scene, chaos erupts (in case you miss the essential premise here,
the fight with Mos Def results in the shooting up of hundreds of hot
TVs which he has stored in his "back room"). Mitch shoots
one guy's shoulder-mounted camera, he's in trouble; the assault is,
of course, broadcast, TV being the bane of all "real"
people's existence here. Soon after, he's commanded by his
desk-bound captain stereotype (Frankie Faison) to participate in
this reality show, conceived and produced by Chase Renzi (Rene
Russo, who mostly just looks tired).
secures Mitch's participation, asserting that he's perfect because
"women love bad boys." He, in turn, thinks the series has
been conceived by "some Hollywood dickhead." And
eventually, they -- surprise surprise -- couple up, thus fulfilling
the primary buddy-movie necessity, that at least one buddy is
visibly heterosexual. When Chase decides that Mitch needs a partner,
a "funny minority type," Trey gets wind of the casting
call. He arranges with his acting buddy (Kadeem Hardison, and what
has happened to his career?) to demonstrate his abilities: the buddy
plays Incompetent Mugger, Trey plays Self-Dazzling Hero, Chase plays
Thrilled Producer, with Groveling Assistant in Tow. The rest of the
film is like that, an ongoing car wreck of odious artifice that is,
apparently, its own point.
order to ensure that her fakey-fake show is a big reality hit, Chase
takes it upon herself to rearrange the real cops' lives as much as
possible (because it's just so funny to see Mitch fume and Trey
prance about): she redesigns the police station so it looks like Men
In Black's HQ, and provides new cars (Humvee and Corvette), so
the "characters" conform to research on viewers'
expectations of their buddy cops. Trey conforms enthusiastically, a
"natural" pop star, coming up with catchphrases
("It's... showtime!"), renaming himself ("Ice
Trey"), and puffing up his chest and looming for the low angle
oh, stop me if you've heard this before: when Chase insists that
each guy spend five minutes a day in front of the
"confessional" camera "Turn on your heart
light!"), the movie's comedic montage sequence kicks in: Mitch
announces, "I wish I was dead," then proceeds to eat
bananas, read the paper, shaves, or, most cunningly, stare blankly
at the camera; Trey spends his confessional time wondering aloud if
he might do better with the "younger demographic" if he
were partnered with a "Wesley Snipes type," rather than
ancient, crotchety Mitch.
complete the formula unto parody (even though the formula is rather
parody by definition), Trey and Mitch are also on a "real"
case while shooting the series. They're tracking a fiendish Latino
villain named Vargas (Pedro Damián), complete with bleached blond
tips and that familiar movie-gangster swagger (and stereotypically
thick accent, and jeez, the film is so clever, it parodies that
too). In between hanging out at Club Cuba Loco and murdering his
employees, Vargas is buying up a load of handheld weapons that can
shoot through trucks, body armor, and buildings. So, along with your
parody and your formula, you get your explosions, vehicular and
makes its colossal lack of originality its oh-so-po-mo point. But
that's not so clever as it might have sounded to someone, somewhere
along the line. Written by Keith Sharon, Alfred Gough, and Miles
Millar, and based on a story by Jorge Saralegui (they would be the
"too many cooks" of whom you've heard tell), and made for
the ungodly sum of $90 million, it's a whole lot of too-muchness.
Especially excessive are those "funny minority types,"
really just too familiar, as offenses and/or jokes, to be very
appears that Showtime wants to be about the insidious
manufacturing of reality (preferably gritty) and identity
(preferably masculine) by those horrid media producers. Make that TV
producers. Movie people, don't you know, have an admirable sense of
scale and self-consciousness, whereas TV people are flat-out gauche,
ratings-craving animals. Everyone knows this, has seen it
represented in movies and, yes, on TV. This isn't to say that the TV
producers, the villains, and Trey are the only greedy, mindless
characters in the film. A couple of scenes also take aim at
consumers: fans of the TV series called Showtime are
represented as demented, screaming suckers, twice in the shape of
black women who cannot get enough of their favorite stars; Trey
dismisses one of these fans with that comic standby, "That
bitch is crazy!" Disrespecting everyone from its characters and
its audience, Showtime is mostly a bad time.
Robert De Niro
PG-13 - Parents
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.