Showtime review

Someone once asked James Caan what he was working on. ""Christmas presents"," he replied. ""Is that the name of the movie?"" they asked. ""No. That's what I'm buying with the money"." Well, at least he was honest. Can Robert De Niro and Eddie Murphy persuade anyone that they have more noble reasons for delivering this lame and lazy farce?

Showtime is best avoided altogether. But, if you really must watch it, then please go in having banished all thoughts of the leading men's recent star turns in comic hits Meet The Parents and Shrek. In their place, imagine a benign dilution of Joel Silver's street hip-hopera Exit Wounds given a bland sheen by the director of Shanghai Noon and scripted with a finesse that conjures up painful memories of such late-'80s disaster areas as Fletch Lives and Who's Harry Crumb?

With little or no discernible effort, De Niro plays grizzled, maverick detective Mitch Preston, while Murphy is Trey Sellars, a street cop who wants to be an actor. Their paths cross when Sellars accidentally messes up an undercover drug bust. In the ensuing fracas, Mitch shoots a TV camera and consequently becomes a hot news item in LA. To cash in on his newfound celebrity - and because some Warners exec clearly thought a reality TV satire was, like, really `now' - a network proposes a fly-on-the-wall programme with Mitch as its star - and the incompetent Sellars as his sidekick, for added wind-up value.

What follows is a glib skit on TV cop shows with no apparent point or logic. The studio executives pitch a gritty reality show, spend the bulk of the film trying to give their supposedly perfect stars a Miami Vice makeover, then create a programme so awesomely tame and inept that no one in even LA would possibly watch it. The nadir is a scene in which the cops get acting lessons from the one-and-only TJ Hooker - - a flabby, unfunny cameo from William Shatner himself. ""That guy's the worst actor I've ever seen"," he says, pointing to De Niro. Ten years ago, that might have brought the house down. Now it's increasingly close to the truth.

This truly dismal cop action spoof seems to have been plucked from a skip somewhere, 20 years after Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder threw it out in disgust.

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