Reality TV is perhaps now overripe for parody. Last year, two movies, the action-thriller 15 Minutes and the dark comedy Series 7: The Contenders, exposed the phenomenon to criticism. Showtime comes along late in the game to take another kick at a horse that may not be dead, but no longer occupies the winner’s circle of fickle popularity. To make matters worse, the kick misses and Showtime slips into self-parody.

Trey Sellars (Eddie Murphy, Doctor Dolittle 2) is a wannabe actor who chooses police work as a day job because he makes a lousy waiter. Mitch Preston (Robert De Niro, 15 Minutes) is a serious, veteran detective ironically notorious for shooting a video camera out of the hands of a pestering newsman. An out-of-court settlement between the network and the L.A.P.D. leads to “Showtime,” a reality TV show that will follow Det. Preston as he busts the bad guys on the mean streets of Los Angeles.

The show’s producer, Chase Renzi (Rene Russo, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle), decides that a black sidekick would broaden the show’s demographic. Sellars finally gets his chance. Against Preston’s wishes, the two are partnered up to fight crime — and win ratings.

Though De Niro’s Preston debunks the cop clichés of TV shows such as “T.J. Hooker” (William Shatner, the titular T.J. Hooker himself, wincingly makes an ass of himself as “Showtime”’s director), by the end this movie plays out most of them.

Murphy’s Sellars may be no tour de force, but his character is fresher than the warmed-over, cranky professional De Niro’s been playing now for years. And though Murphy manages to get a handful of laughs in between the melodramatic action, much of Showtime is a waste of time.

E-mail James Keith La Croix at [email protected].

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