“Showtime,” a buddy comedy, is directed by Tom Dey, whose freshman outing was “Shanghai Noon,” a buddy comedy starring Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson. The film is co-written by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, who not only wrote “Shanghai Noon,” but the cop buddy comedy “Lethal Weapon 4.”

“Showtime” stars Robert De Niro, whose credits include the buddy comedies “Midnight Run” and “Analyze This,” and Eddie Murphy, who counts among his buddy comedies “48 Hrs.” and “Beverly Hills Cop.”

Everything about “Showtime” feels like Deja vu, which in this case is neither fair nor foul. Depending on how you feel about taking a long walk down memory lane, “Showtime” is either a familiar comedy or a derivative echo. You know a comedy is in trouble when the funniest thing in it is William Shatner, whose self-depreciating sense is funnier than anything else in the film.

“Showtime” isn’t bad, but quite honestly I expected a better movie teaming De Niro and Murphy. De Niro looks as uncomfortable as his character, veteran Los Angeles Police Department detective Mitch Preston, feels when he’s picked to star in a new television reality series called “Showtime.”

Preston’s participation is his punishment for taking out his anger on a television news camera. Instead of facing a lawsuit, Preston’s superior orders him to star in the new show. Adding insult to injury, Preston is teamed up with brash, young patrol officer Trey Sellars (Eddie Murphy), who wants to make detective but will settle for being a star. Oh joy, it’s the “Odd Couple” redux.

Hot in pursuit of a drug lord who has just introduced a powerful new weapon on the streets, Preston constantly finds himself tripping over the showboating Sellars and the film crew. When he’s not in pursuit of the bad guy, Preston finds himself taking acting lessons from none other than Shatner.

It all sounds like a lot of fun, especially De Niro taking acting lessons from Shatner, but if you’ve seen the coming attraction trailer, you’ve pretty much seen the movie. The material best suits Murphy, who occasionally gets the opportunity to strut his stuff. De Niro looks bored from the start, perhaps aware that he’s beneath all of this.

One would expect sparks to ignite between the two stars, but it never happens. Any chance of that happening is extinguished by a wet-blanket script that feels like a check list:

Take one veteran, no-nonsense, by-the-book cop (De Niro). Team him with a brash young buck who has never read the book much less go by it (Murphy). Add a black police captain (Frankie Faison) who forces them to get along or else, and toss them into the middle of a plot that employs plenty of car chases and explosions. For further conflict, mix in a strong woman character (Russo) and a generic super villain (Pedro Damian) who both get what is coming to them.

It’s a winning formula, or at least it was 20 years ago. Director Tom Dey seems oblivious to all that came before. Everything about “Showtime” feel rudimentary. Dey just jumps from one obvious moment to the next. It’s connect-the-dots filmmaking, and the only writing utensil on hand is an old pen that is running out of ink.

Writers Gough and Millar, joined by Keith Sharon, think spoofing reality shows makes good comedy, but what they don’t understand is that reality shows are funny because they are real. By creating fake reality, those moments become hackneyed. There are more honest laughs in a half hour episode of “Cops” than in all of “Showtime.”

Rene Russo seems to be channeling Faye Dunaway from “Network” and “Mommie Dearest” in her role as the feisty news producer, a woman who will do whatever it takes to get the job done. It may not be her best performance, but it sure beats her last teaming with De Niro: “The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle.” Now that was truly scary.

Shatner is the real star of “Showtime,” delivering a performance that seems to transcend the rest of the film. It’s a pompous piece of acting as only Shatner can deliver, and he does so with gusto. Stay for the credits to see more of his hilarious performance.

You would think that a gathering of all of these “buddy comedy” veterans would produce the definitive buddy comedy. You would be wrong. Is this a wake-up call that these folks need to move on to greener pastures and leave the genre to someone else? Yes it is.


NO TIME FOR SHOWTIMEMurphy mugs, De Niro shrugs in tired odd couple comedySHOWTIME

Robert De Niro, Eddie Murphy, Rene Russo, William Shatner, Frankie Faison. Directed by Tom Dey. Rated PG-13. 95 Minutes.


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