Eddie Murphy's co-star in "Beverly Hills Cop" was misidentified in a TV preview in the Sept. 1 Style section. He was Judge Reinhold, not Nick Nolte. (Published 9/2/04) A Sept. 1 Style review described the Fox television series "North Shore" as a UPN program. (Published 9/3/04)
Perhaps the good citizens of Hawaii should have read the fine print when their happy homeland became the 50th state of the union in 1959. There has to have been something in the contract about allowing shady producers unlimited access to make schlocky and corny TV shows and movies.
The contract expires when hell or Hawaii freezes over, whichever comes first.
Over the years, Hawaii has played hapless and helpless host to some of the most banal banana splits in TV history, most recently UPN's cockamamie "North Shore," the cast of which is nearly as white and pale as the snows of Alaska. There's hardly a Hawaiian in the bunch.
Now, as viewers of the Olympics know -- because NBC ran a promo for it every three minutes -- it's time to introduce the very imaginatively titled "Hawaii," which has nothing to do with the epic 1966 movie starring Julie Andrews. Since the title "Hawaii" and scads of other titles incorporating "Hawaii" and "Hawaiian" have already been used, the producers should have tried some radical truth in labeling and just called this "Another Dumb Cop Show -- But With Coconuts."
"Another Dumb Cop Show -- But With Poi"?
Whatever, "Hawaii" makes its gory, boring bow tonight at 8 on Channel 4, in High Definition but, unfortunately, Low Intelligence. The early time slot, in what once was called the "family hour," is one of many strikes against the show. Even before the opening credits, the audience is treated to the sight of a hideous, desiccated corpse pulled from a steaming stream of roiling lava. (Does poi roil? A question for another time.)
A coroner who has set up shop at the edge of the lava flow tells the cops that this isn't just any old rotted cadaver because, wouldn't you know, "his head is missing." The camera pans to where the head should be, and at that point the opening credits begin -- filled with the kind of picture-postcard images we expect from such a show, a most welcome change from desiccated cadavers.
"Hawaii" would be better off running a full hour of the postcards and ditching the cop crud altogether.
But the sleazy tease before the credits is a portent of gore to come. Cops opening the trunk of a car discover that headlessness is the theme of the show: Four severed heads, all pasty and hideous, peek blankly back at them. A cop promptly vomits, on-camera, which is probably what they'll be doing over at the Hawaiian tourist bureau when they see this show. Maybe Hawaii has too many visitors and "Hawaii" has taken it upon itself to scare future tourists away.
The show ought to scare viewers away from NBC on Wednesday nights, too. It is so doggedly derivative that it might as well be taking place in Toledo, Waukegan or Sheboygan. You'd get fewer babes in bikinis, true, but "Hawaii" is surprisingly deficient in those anyway. It's deficient in plot, intriguing characters, points of interest and the merest tiny hint of taste. It's not so much a TV show as one big deficiency.
Shamelessly, the producers sample from many other cop movies and TV series that have gone before. Fortunately for them, they have an exceptionally likable cast of actors as the top cops: Ivan Sergei and Eric Balfour as one detective team and, as the other, experienced Michael Biehn and jivy newcomer Sharif Atkins. Obviously there are echoes of such buddy-cop teams of the past as Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the "Lethal Weapon" movies and Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in "Beverly Hills Cop" and its sequels.
Atkins plays a flippant, wisecracking cop uneasily transplanted from Chicago to paradisiacal Hawaii. Murphy's character, like Atkins's, an African American isolated in a predominantly white police force, was from Detroit. You can sense the tremendous inventiveness at work here. It's insulting that the most prominent black character must by default also serve as comic relief. Just once couldn't the racial assignments be switched around?
As good as the actors are, some are forced to play mavericks, rule-breakers and reckless rogues. They are forever getting chewed out for their unorthodox shenanigans by the lamely inevitable angry boss (Cary Tagawa), another concept so stale it's almost as vomitive as those severed heads.
At first it's suspected that a shark bit the heads off. Of course! We all know from the Discovery Channel that sharks prefer their heads a la carte and like to gobble them up in groups of four. Later, however, it's determined that the heads were removed with weapons that have shark teeth for blades. It's never made clear who did it and why, but at least the slanderous nonsense about head-hungry sharks is dismissed.
What's offensive and not just tedious about the show is the surplus of bad language and gore at the early hour, although NBC's dirty cartoon "Father of the Pride" doesn't seem any more pleasant an hour later. Many of the phrases used casually in the "Hawaii" premiere are still not commonly printed in family newspapers, so we'll refrain from citing examples. Please take my word for it, the show is not fit for little kids. Actually, "not fit for humans" says it better.
Since this has become, because of the disruptive scheduling of the Olympic Games, the first week of the new season, I'd like to close this preview with a little prayer:
"Dear Lord, 'Hawaii' is one of the first of dozens of shows making their debuts in the weeks to come that are likely to be horrible ordeals, shows that I am duty-bound if not exactly honor-bound to endure. Perhaps You would like to take me by the hand right now to wherever my battered old soul will next reside, thus sparing me my annual torment.
"Yes, God -- even if it's hell, though it would seem to me that if that's to be the case, I should get credit for time served."
The Passion of the Critic -- Part 1.