ICYMI: Metro (1997)
If you grew up in the 80’s like me, you grew up in the heyday of Eddie Murphy’s stardom. From his breakthrough days on “Saturday Night Live” to his stand-up comedy specials “Delirious” and “Raw” to his blockbuster comedies which included 48HRS., Trading Places, and Beverly Hills Cop I and 2, Murphy’s supernova rise was almost destined to burn out. The last twenty years or so has seen him try to invent and re-invent himself to varying degrees of success. He became more family friendly thanks to success in the Nutty Professor films, the Dr. Doolittle films and the Shrek franchise. He garnered critical praise and even scored an Oscar nomination for his work in 2006’s Dreamgirls. But he has also had his fair share of comedic misfires and flops from Showtime to I-Spy to Meet Dave to the truly abysmal Norbit. What you may missed, even if you are a true Murphy aficionado, is 1997’s Metro.
From director Thomas Carter (who also directed Coach Carter) comes a surprisingly intelligent and at times funny action thriller with Eddie Murphy front and center as San Francisco police hostage negotiator, Scott Roper. As the film begins, we watch Roper try to use his skills to talk down a strung out bank robber (played by Donal Logue of “Gotham”). Roper lays out his strategy to his fellow cops and the audience as he tries to establish rapport with the felon. But as soon as Roper realizes the situation is too fragile and that the use of SWAT would be too messy, he makes a quick decision and finds a resourceful use in the reflection off the glass in the bank’s front door to end the crisis.
The film follows Roper as he takes on a new partner (Michael Rappaport), tries to reconcile with his longtime girlfriend (Carmen Ejogo), avenge the death of a fellow officer and track down a murderous thief (a creepy Michael Wincott). The film is fairly standard in terms of its plot and yet there are still a few surprises and a few insights into hostage negotiating.
The best scenes in the film involve Murphy and Rappaport. Metro is smart enough to avoid the usual cop-buddy antagonism. Rappaport is all ears when it comes to Murphy’s advice and Murphy is impressed by Rappaport’s abilities which includes lip-reading. Murphy’s entertaining tutelage includes a brain teaser with a Coke bottle and a couple of staged hostage scenes. There are also effective action sequences which include a jewel heist gone bad that leads to a chase on to a runaway cable car and the highly improbable but diverting conclusion that involves Murphy’s girlfriend strapped to a table and a button that he cannot release.
I think that part of issue with the film’s lukewarm reception is that while we get glimpses of Murphy’s charm, Metro is fairly serious. For example, there’s the scene where Murphy needs to steal evidence. In past films we would see Murphy try to outsmart and wisecrack his fellow officers, but instead it’s played completely straight. A better example would be what Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal do in the same situation in 1986’s Running Scared, but I digress.
From what I have read, while fans were expecting more Beverly Hills Cop-style fun, Murphy was looking to be taken more serious as an actor and budding action star which may explain the film’s mostly serious tone. And while Metro may not be completely successful in that transformation, Murphy still has plenty of star power to make the film an entertaining diversion.
As far as Murphy’s future, I think we can all collectively cringe at plans for Beverly Hills Cop 4 but be optimistic for the recently completed Dolemite is My Name, with Murphy as Rudy May Moore. If Eddie Murphy has shown anything in his almost forty-year career it’s the ability to give his fans what they want but also be open to new opportunities. And I will always be willing to give him another chance because of the comedic genius that he displayed during my most impressionable years.