Robert De Niro plays Mitch Preston , an experienced detective. Eddie Murphy plays officer Trey Sellars, a patrolman with Hollywood aspirations. When a bust goes awry, Mitch shoots out a network TV camera in anger. The producers threaten to sue the police department, unless Mitch agrees to let a camera crew follow him around, for a new reality television show. Trey tries to win a part as his partner by stagig a purse snatch, but his attempts draw the wrath of Mitch. The show’s producer is on hand to witness the fallout however, and decides that the pair have great chemistry, much to Mitch’s chagrin. The two mis-matched cops struggle to get along, as Mitch grumpily tries to get on with his job, and Trey mugs the camera all the while with a camera stuck in their faces.
Trey’s heaven is Mitch’s hell. The show becomes popular, and Trey is constantly trying to draw out a more theatrical performance from Mitch, who just wants the circus to go away. But things start to become serious as they get embroiled in a major investigation. Can Trey prove that he has what it takes to make a great detective? Will Mitch let him live long enough to find out?
Showtime was just one of several movies from different genres that attempted to capitalise on the reality TV boom. It wasn’t necessarily a bad idea, and could (and maybe should) have worked. The subject was ripe for satire. De Niro has shown some talent for comedy, and Murphy was once one of the top comedy actors in the business. Murphy however is well past his funniest days, and De Niro was at the beginning of a rough patch career wise, one that he only now looks to be dragging himself out of.
There are laughs to be had here. Murphy sliding across the bonnet of his brand new sports car, scratching it with h5s holster is obvious, but still amusing. There is some dynamic between the two characters. De Niro plays to type as a grumpy, by the book detective weary of all the shenanigans going on around him. Murphy plays an almost geeky, desperate character, who has ideas far above his station. The whole movie however is all very much hit or miss. Murphy and De Niro do their best with the material, but the plot and much of the writing is pretty dire, and neither actor is able to really elevate it. It’s truly indicative of a bad movie when a cameo from William Shatner is the funniest element.
There are few similarities between Showtime and Copout, a serious action/thriller actor playing alongside a comedian is the biggest. Showtime however is probably slightly closer to the far superior The Hard Way, from 1991. It starred Michael J Fox as a Hollywood actor riding with a grizzled detective James Wood, to prepare for a role in his next action movie. The Hard Way WAS silly, but had far a more gritty feel, and the banter between Wood and Fox was snappier, and a little more believable. Probably the major difference is that it was played more seriously. Showtime is just too tongue in cheek for it’s own good. A comedy like this works far better if the main protagonists treat the situations in a far more serious manner, rather than camping it up.
A lack of success in the genre of comedy buddy cop movies may set alarm bells ringing for the quality of Copout, but it is much better placed for success. Willis is known for his cop roles, and as such will be well rehearsed in the conventions. Unlike Murphy, Morgan comes into it at the height of his success, and certainly brings a distinctive style to the role. Director Kevin Smith has been a successful filmmaker with almost solely comedy, and his last picture Zack and Miri, though a disappointment commercially, certainly provided humour. That Kevin Smith considers Copout his best work is also promising.
As the first movie Smith has directed from someone else’s material, a lot rides on Copout. Let’s hope lessons have been learned from the failures of the past, and that Copout isn’t the recipient of a handful of Razzies as Showtime once was.
Showtime is available now on DVD
Copout is released in cinemas this Friday the 26th February in the US, and in the UK on the 16th April.
Bazmann – You can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/baz_mann