Rated R, 117 min. Directed by Thomas Carter. Starring Eddie Murphy, Michael Rapaport, Michael Wincott, Carmen Ejogo, Denis Arndt.
Having revived his moribund career with last year’s out-of-nowhere hit, The Nutty Professor, Eddie Murphy now attempts an even more ambitious artistic feat: reanimating the fly-blown carcass of the cop-buddy movie genre that he helped define with early-Eighties blockbusters like Beverly Hills Cop. But while Metro is patently a get-well commercial move for Murphy, it’s also, to his credit, not just Axel Foley redux. Eddie’s 35 now, so it’s fitting that his new alter ego, San Francisco police hostage negotiator Scott Roper, isn’t merely another smack-talking kid squawking along with Sting on his Walkman. Roper is an adult, a guy whose trade tools are psychological insight and a cool head. In his personal life, though, he’s still pretty much a screwup, displaying far more expertise at handicapping horse races than managing personal relationships. As a result, his girlfriend Ronnie (exotic up-and-comer Carmen Ejogo) has ditched him for a studly Giants outfielder and is having none of his wan pleas for reconciliation. Back at the station, we have the core elements of the traditional buddy pic, including the pain-in-the-butt new white partner (Rapaport) and the cranky, by-the-books captain (Arndt). But as pro forma as the setup is, director Carter (who directed 1993’s underappreciated Swing Kids) and screenwriter Randy Feldman also subtly but meaningfully subvert our expectations. For example, much more attention is paid to Scott’s relationship with his old flame than with his partner, especially after Ronnie is kidnapped by a psycho jewel thief (Wincott) who has a vendetta against Roper. The usual car chases and explosions are here, of course (the latter are truly ludicrous, rivaling those Dr. Strangelove fireballs from the action movie parodies in Last Action Hero), but these scenes are at least a bit more inventive than usual and never feel like the story’s whole rationale. This is one of those rare cop/action movies driven by character, not spectacle. Murphy helps the cause with the most focused, persuasive acting of his career. As a young phenom, he got by on charisma, which he promptly commodified and cheapened with Hollywood’s enthusiastic collusion. Now there’s a calm, unfakeable assurance behind his eyes that only comes with life experience. It’s something he can and should build on. Two straight hits, as Murphy well remembers, bring you a lot of juice in Hollywood. Here’s hoping he doesn’t waste it again.
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