You have to admit that the idea of teaming up Robert De Niro and Eddie Murphy is certainly interesting, but who would have thought they both would be upstaged by William Shatner playing William Shatner? Of course, "Showtime" came out in 2002, and that was before Shatner started winning all those Emmys for playing Denny Crane on "Boston Legal." But this movie and those Priceline commercials probably prompted David Kelley to unleash Shatner on prime time television once again (We knew there was life after Captain James T. Kirk, but who knew there was such life after T.J. Hooker as well?).
"Showtime" is a film that has its cake and eats it too by making fun of the cop buddy comedy movie at the same time it embraces the genre. That might explain why you have the feeling at the end of this film that you are watching a different movie than the one you started out watching. De Niro is Mitch, a streetwise cop who lives in the real world and takes pride in doing his job and the fact that he has never had to choose between cutting the red wire or the green wire. Murphy is Trey, a patrolman who likes being a cop but would also like to play a cop on TV. Rene Russo is the television executive, sort of a second grade Faye Dunaway "Network" type, who takes the opportunity to bring these two together when Mitch makes the mistake of blowing away a television camera during a shootout (his partner has been shot, there is a guy out there with the biggest gun you have ever seen, and for some reason Mitch does not like a bright light being shined on them in the dark of night). To avoid a multi-million dollar law suit Mitch is ordered to play ball with the television people, even if that means constantly being followed by cameras as he tries to do his job and putting Trey in the seat next to him. While Chase waits for Mitch to explode on camera, we wait for him to bond with Trey.
That is the premise of "Showtime," and the biggest irony is that the best scenes involve setting up the premise rather than the plot that keeps intruding on the fun. The only thing better than Eddie Murphy teaching Robert De Niro how to act is when William Shatner shows up and the pair have T.J. Hooker show them how it is done. Perhaps not since the Marx Brothers ran rampant has the screen had three such divergent approaches to acting in a single scene, which Shatner steals from the other two. The best line in the film is when Shatner informs Chase that Mitch is the worst actor he has ever seen. Unfortunately the rest of the film does not match the levels of humor at work during this training sequence and you have to give credit to the actors who can make a simple scene such as Mitch watching Trey watching Shatner hysterical.
The film is directed by Tom Dey, who did "Shanghai Noon" and apparently is content to find a niche as a buddy film director. Then again, if you get De Niro and Murphy should you be complaining about being typed as a director? This is an action comedy where the action gets in the way of the comedy and once Shatner disappears the movie shifts into a different gear. Yes, there is a point where comedies like this have serious moments and we realize that underneath the banter and animosity there are feelings of affection and mutual respect, but with "Showtime" you just get the feeling they are pouring on the cliches they spent so much time ridiculing in the first half of the film.