"Buddy-cop films get the Scream treatment"
Dir. Tom Dey, writ. Keith Sharon, Alfred Gough, and Miles Millar, feat. Robert DeNiro, Eddie Murphy, Rene Russo, William Shatner, Kadeem Hardison, Julian Dulce Vida, Frankie Faison, Mos Def (PG-13)
It's Showtime! That's right: Robert DeNiro and Eddie Murphy together for the first time in an action-comedy that has all but guaranteed to do for police films what Scream did for horror films. With Lethal Weapon serving as the cinematic impetus, Showtime's premise of real cops starring in a police-themed reality TV show promises to cleverly poke fun at the genre. From a cop named Trey "Icetray" Sellers (Murphy), who would rather be starring in a Hollywood flick than busting criminals, to a villain so "foreign" that his English is indecipherable during one of the scenes in the film, Showtime makes a worthy attempt to emulate the too-smart-for-its-own-good approach that made Scream such a commercial and critical hit.
Yet Showtime gingerly tiptoes along the fine line that separates a self-reverential spoof from a straight-up buddy comedy, preventing the film from living up to the parody standard. The onus, however, shouldn't be on the outrageous performances that DeNiro (an up-and-coming comic genius) and Murphy deliver in the film.
As grizzled and gruff detective Mitch Preston, DeNiro is perfect in the straight man role that he previously mined for laughs in the hit comedy Meet the Parents, and provides the perfect cop type for Chase Renzi (Rene Russo) — a sleazy TV executive — to exploit on her new reality show "Showtime." To ensure the show is as dramatic as possible, Renzi partners the reluctant Preston with Murphy's character, a cop who happens to be a struggling actor on the side, and creates a buddy-cop reality spectacle that even includes the obligatory "confessionals" that litter every reality-based show.
Although the chemistry between the two actors is entertaining, it does not equal the magic that DeNiro and Ben Stiller created in Parents. As far as the self-reverential spoofing goes, Showtime's best moments occur in the rehearsal sequences with William Shatner, aka "T. J. Hooker" (playing himself, naturally), instructing the two on how to act like TV cops. But instead of expanding on these humorously deferential scenes, director Tom Dey and his committee of screenwriters keep the comic novelty to a minimum and fail to fully satirize the clichés that shape the buddy-cop genre. Unfortunately, having T. J. Hooker showing DeNiro and Murphy how to check for cocaine or jump on the hood of a car wasn't reverential enough. Reviewed by Albert Lopez
Italian for Beginners
"Not for Dogma 95 beginners"
Dir. and writ. Lone Scherfig; feat. Anders W. Berthelsen, Anette Støvelbaek, Peter Gantzler, Ann Eleonora Jørgensen, Lars Kaalund, Karen-Lise Mynster. (R)
First off, Italian for Beginners is a Dogma 95 film and adheres to the code of stripped-down filmmaking originally advocated by Danish Director Lars von Trier and a few of his equally ambitious peers. The color looks a little faded, the camera is often handheld, seemingly random jump-cuts abound, and no extraneous music is on the soundtrack (supposedly Dogma 95 directors are known to cheat on the premise now and then). Some people object to Dogma 95 on the grounds of pretension, which is a little like objecting to cheesecake on the grounds of sweetness — pretension, in the sense of a style which calls attention to itself, is built into the concept.
There have only been five Dogma 95 films and it's my contention that the grimmer the material, the more effective the approach is. Von Trier's Dancer in the Dark and Thomas Vinterberg's screwed-up family melodrama, The Celebration, benefited from this added gloss of alienation with their arrhythmic poking at the viewer's aesthetic eye. But with Soren Kragh-Jacobsen's Mifune, which was essentially a romantic comedy, it felt like a layer that had to be peeled away to get to the film's small core.
More layer-peeling is required for writer-director Lone Scherfig's Italian for Beginners in order to get to its pleasantly inconsequential story of three couples fated to eventually get together. The film follows them in their individual lives and at their common meeting ground, a class where they're all learning Italian. The characters are mostly sympathetic, the situations mostly low-key and believable. It's a combination of the charming (as love prevails) and the grotesque (as the Dogma 95 style casts its baleful gaze): At one point, a woman comes home to find her elderly father has died — with his head thrown back and mouth agape, he looks like something from one of Ingmar Bergman's grislier nightmares.
Italian for Beginners is being touted as a saucy romp, but you should be warned that the sauce has a few poison mushrooms in it. Proceed with caution. Reviewed by Richard C. Walls