Showtime cast: Robert De Niro, Eddie Murphy, Rene Russo, Frankie R. Faison, and William Shatner director: Tom Dey 91 minutes (12) 2001 Warner VHS rental RATING: 6/10 reviewed by Donald Morefield

Unlike the energetic characterisations of John Badham’s The Hard Way (1991), in which Michael J. Fox played a bratty Hollywood actor teamed with James Woods’ livewire, loose cannon, New York detective – ostensibly to learn how real cops operate on the streets, but so obviously aiming to be the tough guy’s buddy in catching an urban psycho – Showtime is much lighter in tone with blustering rather than blistering performances from its stars. More of a giddy lark than its predecessor, Showtime aims for behind-the-scenes satire on reality programmes like Cops, and fails on every level to match the sheer vigour of The Hard Way.
Mitch Preston (Robert De Niro) is the ‘real’ cop here. He’s a world-weary, and sadly boring, individual who does his job – but fails to catch any big-time crooks, and then goes home to his hobby of failing to create pottery. Trey Sellars (Eddie Murphy) is the rather burlesque uniform cop who wants to be an actor – but fails an audition for the fictional ‘Tuff Cops’ TV show, then (presumably) goes home to practice his mime act. Mitch smashes an irritating TV newshound’s camera, and this attracts the attention of an ambitious executive (Rene Russo), who brokers a lawsuit avoidance deal with the LAPD forcing Mitch to participate in a reality-TV series (entitled Showtime, of course). Mitch soon finds himself partnered with the overenthusiastic Trey, who laps up all the attention, and is delighted to engage in “backlot bullshit” – even as the uncomfortably squirming Mitch tries desperately to evade the ever-present video cameras, which pry into his personal life only to discover that he doesn’t actually have one.
William Shatner appears as himself, advising the makers of Showtime how to get the best from their mismatched buddy heroes. This involves finding dumber-than-T.J. Hooker (1983-85) catchphrases, and trying to teach ‘hood-jumping’ on the bad guys getaway car, before proclaiming in despair that Mitch (De Niro) “is the worst actor I’ve ever seen.” Despite such postmodernist ironies (can De Niro handle comedy roles?), however, the spectre of Starsky And Hutch (1976-81) is never too far away. Other derivative elements include the villains’ super-gun (see Arnie vehicle, Eraser, 1996), stunts in the knockabout style of Rush Hour (1998), and the complete demolition of a house by a sustained burst of gunfire, as in The Gauntlet (1977).
Of particular interest, though, is the video diary confessional booth set-up just to spite Mitch’s reluctance to be on-camera, where De Niro cannily deconstructs Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry catchphrases, and (yet again, after a feeble comedy outing, as Fearless Leader, in The Adventures Of Rocky And Bullwinkle, 2000) sends up his own iconographic role in Taxi Driver (1976), by suddenly facing the camera to ask “Are you looking at me?”
A conventionally edited, yet still amusing, blooper reel (“Get that camera outta here!” – Mitch’s obvious catchphrase) runs before the final credits.