Just when you think Eddie Murphy has pulled off a glorious comeback, he slips up on the banana peel of ego.
To wit: Not six months ago, Murphy burst back to the top with his energetic takes on seven different characters--fat, skinny and uniformly hilarious--in the sleeper of 1996, The Nutty Professor; now he wants to take himself seriously again, as in the bleak days of Harlem Nights and Boomerang.
The offending item is a mess called Metro, in which our Eddie tries to combine the icy, machismo-bound cop poses of "Dirty Harry" Callahan with dozens of weak jokes about asses--his ass, his girlfriend's ass, the lazy-ass bitch of a racehorse that loses him half a week's pay and the sorry-ass psychopathic villain of the piece, whose ass he pledges to kick.
The dumbasses here are screenwriter Randy Feldman and director Thomas Carter (Swing Kids), who obviously let the still-high-powered Murphy sell them on a movie that can't decide whether to laugh or play it straight. In Murphy's case, that should never be an issue: The man was born for comedy; he's no James Earl Jones.
Nevertheless, Metro is for the most part a grim, bloody San Francisco police thriller in which Murphy's fast-talking hostage negotiator, Scott Roper, has to play cat-and-mouse with a jewel thief and cold-blooded killer named Korda (Michael Wincott). Korda's the kind of guy who slashes police detectives' throats in elevators and sends the severed ears of hostages out to the street enclosed in little squares of gift wrap. This villain delights in throwing passengers off runaway cable cars, then shooting the drivers dead.
It's Roper's job to track the vermin down and kill him. But first we have to endure the usual cop-buddy stuff (with rookie sharpshooter/partner Michael Rapaport), the familiar woman-in-jeopardy angle (Korda goes after Eddie's sometimes girlfriend, a pretty newcomer named Carmen Ejogo) and the obligatory San Francisco car chase, which tears ass from Russian Hill to Chinatown and down to water's edge, just like every other San Francisco car chase. The sooner Hollywood puts an embargo on these things, the sooner Steve McQueen will rest in peace.
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Like to sniff out lapses of movie logic? How about a convict who's being held on multiple murder and kidnapping charges (including a cop-killing) being allowed to wander around the jailhouse dry-cleaning shop at his leisure, then lifting himself into a conveyor belt of garment bags and magically winding up out on Powell Street?
Amid the gore and mayhem, the minds behind Metro (whose very title has dropped in from another planet) remember every now and then that Eddie Murphy's a pretty funny guy. With that in mind, what seems to be a separate character suddenly starts telling another round of ass jokes. Little matter that Scott Roper's partner has just been killed: He'll tell the girl how her ass could be used to sweeten a pot of spaghetti sauce.
In the end, it looks like officer Eddie should have remained in Beverly Hills for another sequel. Down there, at least, the police department has a sense of humor and everyone seems to know something about good casting.--Gallo
Screenplay by Randy Feldman. Directed by Thomas Carter. With Eddie Murphy, Carmen Ejogo, Michael Rapaport and Michael Wincott.