EXCESS HOLLYWOOD: THE DEATH OF EDDIE MURPHY

I’ve never been a huge fan of Eddie Murphy. I don’t even like his music (probably one of the loosest uses of that word I’ve ever used). I guess I just never found him all that funny.

My earliest memory of the man occurred when he was a cast member on “Saturday Night Live” and some of my female family members were watching and wondering aloud about the size of his penis. That was my introduction to the man who would later go on to voicing a jackass (art imitating life, perhaps). It was a rocky start, and the path ahead never got any smoother.

For a time, America loved Murphy. He was a black man white America could appreciate, and the fact that he wasn’t very political made it even easier for white America to embrace him. He had well-received stand-up films and movies such as “Beverly Hills Cop,” which my brother played the soundtrack to on a nearly non-stop basis. There were fond “SNL” memories. For the longest time, Murphy could do no wrong. Every honeymoon comes to an end, though, and Murphy soon lost his cheap appeal.

There were the expeditions into Top 40 radio and a string of bad movies that seemed to reach the depths of despair with “The Adventures of Pluto Nash.” And what was the deal with that transvestite? More importantly, what did his fans think of all this?

Murphy’s older fans turned their back on the man who turned his back on them. The raunchy Murphy of old had turned into the kid-friendly Dr. Dolittle. The man who once had interviewers begging to talk to him now had to remind people of his former greatness. The future of black comedy was no longer associated with Murphy.

I wasn’t surprised.

Murphy always struck me as a smarter Andrew Dice Clay and little more. His success amounted to being in the right place at the right time, and it counted more on luck than skill, as was apparent when his act lost its steam and he was unable to recover. The man who was once considered a wild gun who could say anything at anytime was now an afterthought. I’m sure that hurt his die-hard fans. It shouldn’t have surprised them, though. It was pretty apparent that this was inevitable.

I think his career began its decline when he put out the “Party All the Time” single. The song was actually a hit, but did he learn nothing from William Shatner and Don Johnson? My friends, who were still devoted to Murphy at the time, agreed that the song seemed like a bad choice. “Give him a chance,” they told me. “He’ll be back.” Oh, he came back all right.

It could be argued that Murphy turned his career around and went from a foul-mouthed comedian to a caring, sensitive, leading man family type of guy. That may have been his goal, but you’d have to admit that he lost something along the way. I didn’t find him very funny before, but he’s even less so now. In fact, the last time I laughed during one of his movies was while watching “Bowfinger.” Murphy has had one golden moment as of late, though.

Shrek earned some nice bank, but that can’t be credited solely with Murphy. Can’t and shouldn’t be. No, that was a cast project. Anything that has relied solely on Murphy has … well, it’s a gamble, and I’m surprised studios are still willing to make the bet.

The Murphy of old, the Murphy who Spike Lee accused of not doing enough to help out other black actors, the Murphy who paid for Redd Foxx’s funeral — he’s not coming back. That may sadden his old fans, but there are other comedians they can follow. The Murphy we are stuck with is content doing Disney films. That’s not a bad thing, but let’s not pretend he’ll ever return to his former “glory.” That just won’t happen at this point.

And for those of us who never found him all that funny in the first place and thought he was little more than a lucky hack — well, it looks like we were right. “The Haunted Mansion,” anyone?

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Posted on April 15, 2004 in Features by

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