The reinvigorated Eddie Murphy who wowed audiences this summer in The Nutty Professor has, apparently, left the building. In Metro, he’s been replaced by a slick, businesslike machine of an actor, playing an uninspired variation on the Axel Foley character he’s done for over a decade now, since starring in 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop. Only this time he’s not even funny.

Murphy plays San Francisco hostage negotiator Scott Roper, whose partner is murdered by a stereotypically cold-blooded criminal (Michael Wincott) intent on reuniting with the cache of jewels from which he was parted during a botched robbery. So Roper goes after the killer (named Michael Korda, same as the well-known real-life editor-author, for reasons that confound), assisted by his sharpshooting protege (Michael Rapaport). The pursuit is a remarkably slack and slow-paced affair, despite a couple of elaborate chase sequences that eat up a major chunk of screen time.

It’s also a notably sadistic exercise, involving lots of beating, slugging, shooting, crashing, stabbing, and the stalking and torture of Roper’s pretty, two-dimensional girlfriend (British actress Carmen Ejogo in her American feature debut). In fact, if I didn’t know that such treatment is nothing new in a Murphy production (remember Eddie the womanizer in Boomerang?), I’d say this mean, enervated, foul-mouthed, and formulaic piece of work (have I left anything out?), directed by TV-trained Thomas Carter (Equal Justice, Hill Street Blues), is particularly dim about how to use female characters as anything more than props.

In a faint reminder that he has it in him to be an ingratiating comedian, Murphy, who looks grimly chic throughout this ordeal, occasionally trots out a few trademark humorous smirks and riffs, written by Tango & Cash scripter Randy Feldman with ”f—” inserted every third word. (That’s how you know the part was written for Murphy and not, say, Jean-Claude Van Damme.) Rapaport, who can be interesting (in Mighty Aphrodite) or hackneyed (in Beautiful Girls) doesn’t get a chance to do much more than aim through his rifle scope.

Only Wincott (Basquiat), with his death-rattle voice and stone-faced expression of menace, appears to be having any fun. Regularly escaping from impossible situations including flaming automobiles, out-of-control cable cars, and maximum-security prison, his Korda keeps on ticking with a persistence that, in another movie, might be entertaining. ”When you think you’re f—–‘ them, they’re f—–‘ you,” Korda warns Roper. That’s about as deep as the philosophy gets in Murphy’s latest precinct.

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