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Eddie Murphy's long-awaited comeback... maybe

Metro

Written by Randy Feldman.

Directed by Thomas Carter.

Starring Eddie Murphy, Michael Rapaport, Michael Winmcott and Carmen Ejogo.

By Yaron Koren
Staff Reporter

It's just a normal day for Scott Roper (Eddie Murphy), the San Francisco Police Department's top negotiator: A crazed robber has just taken hostage the occupants of a bank, and it's up to him to enter the high-tension situation, disarm the attacker, and free the hostages without causing the situation to backfire. Scott isn't worried, though; this is what he does best. He knows all the tricks of the trade: how to appear to concede to the criminal without actually giving up anything at all, how to calm the hostages so they don't do anything rash, where to artfully conceal a handgun in the event nothing else works.

All of these are nicely presented in the first 20 minutes, giving us a fresh perspective on a scenario (a tense hostage situation) that has become as old as yesterday's rented copy of Die Hard.

Eddie Murphy's new movie, the action thriller Metro, starts out optimistically enough. Everything changes, though, when Roper is sent to handle a jewelry store being robbed by Michael Korda (Michael Wincott, in a controlled but intense performance). This man is no amateur; he anticipates all the police's moves and cunningly engineers some breathtaking getaways, cynically using civilians as human shields every step of the way. Korda is unstoppable, and every attempt Roper makes to bring him to justice only succeeds in personalizing their relationship, until Korda takes on as his new personal mission to ruthlessly terrorize Roper and his sometime-girlfriend Ronnie Tate (newcomer Carmen Ejego). This is when the pulse-pounding truly begins. That's because director Thomas Carter piles the second half of Metro with enough false starts and red herrings (not to mention real violence) to keep even the veteran action movie fans in a state of constant panic.

Everything about this movie is both familiar and new. Near the beginning, Roper is assigned, against his wishes, rookie police officer Kevin McCall (Michael Rapaport) as his new partner. We don't even have to be told that Roper's skepticism will eventually turn to trust and then love because this is the concept behind every cop-buddy movie. But the character of McCall surprises us with his incredible competence at police work. The action sequences - and there are plenty of them - are, despite their derivativeness, brilliantly choreographed and full of high-voltage fun.

Borrowing a page straight from The Rock, Metro sets up a no-holds-barred trolley chase through the streets of San Francisco, culminating with the driver's being killed and losing control of the brakes, sending it careening through horrified people and traffic. At least 50 stunt cars must have been totalled in just that one sequence, a celebration of destruction which is alone almost worth the price of admission.

Despite its true lack of a humorous core, people will have a tendency to think of Metro as a comic Eddie Murphy film; the audience I saw it with was laughing raucously, especially at the beginning, even at the tepidly funny lines, probably more out of the expectation that something funnier would come on its heels than any actual hilarity.

The film tries to inject humor into the plot in between suspenseful sequences, usually in romantic scenes with Ronnie, but these seem to have no relation with the rest of the movie. Too many times they cut from a scene where one or both of the two co-stars is in mortal danger to a cutesy dialogue between the two in a fancy restaurant or at home, where no mention is made of the horrible events that happened previously. They could have been two separate movies; unlike Murphy's Beverly Hills Cop, which was an actual fusion of action and comedy, this is just an awkward cut-and-paste job.

Still, there is no denying Murphy's instant likability in everything he does. When he is afraid, we tense up, when he urges everyone to stay calm, we of course stay calm, and when he emits that great, raucous laugh of his, we can't help but do the same. The truth of the matter is, he could read a cookbook out loud and make it sound charming. Leave it to Murphy, assisted by smart direction from Thomas Carter, to do the same for an otherwise fairly by-the-numbers movie in a worn-out genre.