Monday, May 15, 2017

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Metro (1997)

Released at the intersection in Eddie Murphy's career where he transitioned from adult comedy star to family friendly funny man, Metro is notable as Murphy's last stab at R-rated action comedy.


Murphy stars as police negotiator Scott Roper. After his friend is killed, Roper gets on the tail of his killer, a psychopathic criminal called Michael Korda (Michael Wincott). However, Roper's attempts to get his man are soon complicated when Korda turns his sights on Roper's ex-girlfriend Ronnie (Carmen Ejogo)...

Directed by Thomas Carter, Metro is a strange beast. While it has sprinkles of the old Murphy magic, the overall tone is more strait-laced action movie than action comedy. And while he has a green partner in Michael Rappaport, there is no attempt at a 'buddy cop' dynamic ala Beverly Hills Cop or even Lethal Weapon.

Even the action sequences are not played for laughs -- the film's most OTT sequence, the tram chase, feels a beat away from some cutaway gag or a one-liner, but we get nothing. The scene is played dead serious. There's even a home invasion sequence which feels like something out of an eighties slasher movie. While it never goes too dark, the tone is noticeably more solemn than Murphy's previous vehicles in the action genre.


Perhaps the Murphy factor is throwing me off. Maybe the movie is intended as a straight action drama. It's just that having Murphy as the star immediately evokes a set of expectations that the movie does not play to. Roper is a cop who is good at his job -- which is pretty similar to Axel Foley. But Roper lacks Foley's sense of fun. Roper is more restrained. When his friend is killed, Roper reacts with anger and dismay. When he goes after the killer, Roper never antagonises the villain or makes fun of him. 

A case could be made that Metro is Murphy's only full-on action movie lead. His character has a few wisecracks, but overall he plays Roper completely straight. Murphy's acting choices work for the role -- Roper is a police negotiator, and knows that every choice he makes when confronting the psycho could cause more mayhem. Murphy's measured, empathetic performance is very good, and it might have gotten more attention if the movie was better.

The movie establishes a series of threads that the movie drops -- Roper is established as an emotionally stunted gambling addict, but once the plot clicks into place, this baggage is dropped very quickly, and it never feeds into his conflict with the villain. 


Speaking of which, Michael Wincott's Korda, with his flash-flood rages and love of mailing cops body parts, feels like a character out of a much darker movie. Wincott is very good, and his antagonism with Murphy works well, but when they are together it feels like they are in a far darker movie.

The action sequences, while competently staged, never really pop. The one exception is the tram car chase, which builds a nice sense of peril and stakes. The finale, involving a bound Ronnie being menaced with a saw, feels like something out of Looney Tunes or The Perils of Pauline.
Another odd note is the relationship between Roper and Ronnie. While they have an easy rapport, the age gap between Murphy and Ejogo creates a disconnect. While one can imagine them being friends,  their relationship feels so platonic, it is a bit disconcerting whenever they get more intimate. 

Overall, what makes Metro interesting is how far it strays from what you would expect from an Eddie Murphy movie. Considering the direction Murphy's career went after its release, with The Nutty Professor and Dr Doolittle, the movie gains a weird poignancy: this is the last time we see Murphy working in the sandbox we were used to. While it has its flaws, Metro is a pretty fun flick, with a strong villain and a legitimately terrific performance from Eddie Murphy.

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