Remember the scene in 'Beverly Hills Cop' when Axel Foley cons his way into a hotel room by pretending he's a reporter for Rolling Stone? He fools the desk clerk into giving him a room by stating that he was going to write an article called "Michael Jackson Sits on Top of the World."
Remember when Eddie Murphy was sitting on top of the world? It's fitting that Murphy's comeback interview, of sorts, appeared in that same publication. Sadly, the full interview isn't online, but it's a quite fascinating read and comes highly recommended (that is, if you still remember how and where to purchase print publications). I mean, any time Murphy discusses 'SNL' -- a topic he loves to avoid -- you've got yourself a special interview. But there was one tidbit that really caught my attention.
It's hard to watch Murphy's new film, 'Tower Heist,' and not be reminded of the Eddie Murphy of old. You know, the one before all of the family films. Before box-office bombs like 'The Adventures of Pluto Nash' and 'Meet Dave.' What happened to the Eddie Murphy of old? In the Rolling Stone interview, Murphy admits he never does his trademark laugh any more because, "it started out as a real laugh ... then there were a couple of times where I laughed because I knew it would make people laugh." I can't help but wonder, Is that when it all changed? When Murphy transformed from a guy who is funny to a guy who did things because others would think it was funny?
It's hard to explain to someone who wasn't there just how big Eddie Murphy was in the mid-'80s. The only reason 'Saturday Night Live' is on the air today -- despite the calamitous departure of Lorne Michaels, in 1980 -- is because Eddie Murphy kept it funny enough to watch. In 'SNL''s first season, there was a worry that it would transform itself into The Chevy Chase Show. Chase left midway through the second season of 'SNL,' so that scenario never quite materialized, but from 1981 to 1984, 'Saturday Night Live' was The Eddie Murphy Show. Never has one person so dominated the show. Put it this way: When Murphy left 'SNL,' in 1984, executive producer Dick Ebersol had to hire already established stars like Billy Crystal, Martin Short and Christopher Guest to fill the void.
The first Eddie Murphy movie I was allowed to see was 'Beverly Hills Cop.' 'Beverly Hills Cop' was everywhere -- it was way too big to ignore, even for my parents. It was absolutely impossible to turn on the radio and not hear 'Neutron Dance' by The Pointer Sisters or 'The Heat is On' by Glenn Frey, both from the 'Cop' soundtrack. Of course, this led me to Murphy's standup -- which resulted with me tricking my mom into buying me 'Delirious' by telling her that it was a music album. (I mean, the thought of Eddie Murphy doing music, that was crazy, right? Oh.)
So when did things start to change?
Strangely enough, I actually enjoyed Murphy's 1985 single, 'Party All the Time,' the first couple times I heard it. It was catchy! Then I saw the video and thought, Hm, he's really taking this seriously for some reason. I'll say this: 'Party All the Time' led to a lifetime of me hating it when actors decide they want to sing. It's reckless excess. What is it exactly about being the hottest star on the planet that gives you an uncontrollable urge to sing? To be fair to Murphy, the song did reach No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, but 'Party All the Time' hinted at larger problems. He should have quit music while he was ahead.
I firmly believe that 'Boomerang' is the movie that changed Murphy's trajectory forever. I've observed critics point to 'Harlem Nights,' but, you know, every successful actor deserves a vanity project, so 'Nights' gets a pass. (And, for what it's worth, having Murphy, Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx in the same movie is interesting.) And, of course, there's the infamous 'Vampire in Brooklyn,' but, as even Murphy admits in the new Rolling Stone interview, he had to do that film in order to fulfill a contract. No, it's 'Boomerang.' It was always 'Boomerang.'
'Boomerang' is the first movie where Eddie Murphy spends all his time being "charming." He exerts no comedic effort, believing he can carry the movie on charm alone. Sure, 'Coming to America' presented problems, too -- like Murhpy's self-indulgent (if impressive) need to play multiple characters -- but at least there is still strong comedic value in 'Coming to America.' That's not the case with 'Boomerang.' In other words: 'Boomerang' marks the first time that Eddie Murphy got lazy. In other other words: It's the first time that Eddie Murphy realized his laugh alone could make people laugh. And, boy, does Murphy work that laugh (and his "charm") in 'Boomerang.' It's the first movie where Eddie Murphy said, "Hey, I'm motherfucking Eddie Murphy, buy a ticket." Misses like 'The Distinguished Gentleman' and the aforementioned 'Vampire in Brooklyn' soon followed. Oh, yeah, then 'Whatzupwitu' happened.
If 'Boomerang' is the smoking gun, 'Whatzupwitu' is the dead corpse of Murphy's self-awareness. I mean, if 'Whatzupwitu' served any purpose at all, it was to prove, without a doubt, how fucking oblivious Murphy was at the time (and may still be, according to his latest interview, considering he reads no reviews). I mean, there's "not being self-aware" and then there's "being the person who makes 'Whatzupwitu.'"
A credit to Murphy: he rebounded quickly. Sure, it was with 'The Nutty Professor' and 'Dr. Doolittle' movies, but, still: box-office success is box-office success. (And, yes, soon after this, Murphy was involved in a personal controversy that I have to acknowledge right now, but it didn't affect his film career – which is the subject at hand.)
Do you realize that in the world we live in, Eddie Murphy has done almost as many family films than "Eddie Murphy films"? Since 1996, we've had two 'The Nutty Professor' movies, two 'Dr. Doolittle' movies, four 'Shrek' movies, 'Haunted Mansion' and 'Daddy Day Care.' Then came that brief shining moment when Murphy was nominated for an Academy Award in 2006 for 'Dreamgirls,' but he even had to go and fuck that up by leaving the ceremony early when he didn't win. Sure, he addresses this, too, in his new interview, but what he says doesn't 100 percent add up. We want to root for you, Eddie, but, Christ, you make it so hard. Oh, during that same time period, he also released 'Norbit.' Sheesh.
One of the first lines spoken by Murphy in 'Tower Heist' is, "I'm gonna whoop your ass." That was awesome. Honestly, I felt like a little kid again. I mean, it was Eddie Murphy letting loose, not worried about his family image. Look, it wasn't quite the Eddie I remember from my childhood ('Tower Heist is PG-13, after all), but it's as close as we're probably going to get to the guy who snuck into a hotel by pretending he was a reporter for Rolling Stone. Eddie Murphy once sat on top of the world and, by God, I hope he sits there again someday. But, more importantly, I really hope he laughs again. Naturally. Because that just might fix everything.
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