Now that the word "postmodern" has lost all meaning, and self-consciousness about clichés is itself a virulent strain of cliché, Hollywood studios are reaching new heights of cynicism, repackaging bad genre films into "bad genre films" in quotation marks. It's no great coincidence that Showtime, a dire buddy action-comedy starring Robert De Niro and Eddie Murphy, opens with a marketing strategy virtually identical to that of last summer's loathsome Swordfish. Like a greasy politician, the hero speaks directly to the camera, informs the audience that it shouldn't buy into all those tired old action tropes, and then spends the rest of the movie moving from one by-the-numbers shootout or car chase to another. So in effect, the filmmakers have no intent to defy conventions; they just want people to know they're aware of them, and hope they won't mind going through the motions one more time. The one good joke behind Showtime, exploited to much better effect by the Kevin Spacey subplot in L.A. Confidential, is that the movies and celebrity have a way of blurring the distinction between real cops and their Hollywood counterparts. But like the rest of the film—a conceptual mishmash of hand-me-downs from Lethal Weapon and Network—the gag has been focus-grouped, script-doctored, and test-screened into a frail, wheezing pulp. In a rare phoned-in performance, De Niro stars as a veteran detective and "cop on the edge" who gets into trouble when he shoots out a TV camera that intrudes on a crime scene. To avoid a $10 million lawsuit from the network, the department agrees to force him to participate in a trashy reality-TV show conceived by Rene Russo, a crass, ratings-driven monster along the lines of Faye Dunaway in Network. Russo assigns De Niro a mismatched partner: the flashy Murphy, a disgraced officer and would-be screen star who clamors aggressively for the spotlight, but earns little respect from De Niro or anyone else on the force. With hidden cameras and a remote van in tow, the two track down a gunrunning operation that threatens to unleash a new "cannon" gun powerful enough to pierce bulletproof vests. Tepid as a media satire (of what exactly?), rote as an action-suspense film, Showtime is notable mainly for its breathtaking stupidity. The idea that a police unit would throw an officer to the mercy of a TV station in order to avoid a lawsuit makes about as much sense as the phony pilot on Seinfeld about a judge sentencing a man to be someone's butler. The director, Tom Dey, had the good sense to let Owen Wilson and Jackie Chan alone in Shanghai Noon, but that plan backfires with De Niro and Murphy, who are visibly uncomfortable with each other. Their improvisation seems chaotic and mismanaged, and the movie follows in kind.

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