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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Worst Actors - Eddie Murphy: Part 1

Just... Terrifying.
As discussed in a previous article observing the career of Adam Sandler, SNL has been successful at turning out major Holywood stars.  Still, as is often the case, its successes are outweighed by its failures.  A vast majority of SNL performers have their run on the show, then fade away, rarely to be heard from again.  However, about once every generation or so, the series has one huge, breakout star.  In the disastrous 1980-1981 season, a young African American comedian joined the Not Ready for Primetime Players and became one of the show's biggest successes, seemingly overnight.  

Eddie Murphy’s run on SNL was a combination of classic hits and a few rare misses.  I would contend he is easily in the top ten best cast members of the shows history, most notably for his hilarious Buckwheat sketches (Buckwheat sings the hits in-particular) and what is arguably my single favorite sketch in the entire series’ history: White Like Eddie Murphy, in which Murphy (as himself) goes undercover to see what the world is like as a white man.  If you haven’t seen this, it is on YouTube, and it is amazing!

So, it sounds like this is so-far pretty positive, right?  Well, like many of the performers that have been and will be on this list,  Eddie Murphy’s career did not start getting really bad until later.  He started off as an edgy, funny comedian coming off a period in the 1970’s of comedy that was either overtly slapstick, or wry and self-aware.  There was really not too many comedies being released that held that nice middle ground.  The most successful comedies were more low-key (for the most part), as was the case with Harold and Maude and The Last Picture Show, then came SNL.  SNL’s contribution to comedy was essential.  It shocked, it broke down barriers, it put black and female comedians on even ground with their white male counterparts, and it addressed social mores and taboos with gusto.  It was brazen, and that is what made it great.

Eddie Murphy wanted to be a pop star... Isn't that cute?
After three successful seasons on SNL, Eddie Murphy was already a Hollywood hit-maker.  48 Hours and Trading Places (my favorite Eddie Murphy comedy) were both released during his time on the sketch comedy show, and both were successful.  He began a pretty remarkable run in the 1980’s, racking up hits with Beverly Hills Cop, Coming to America and Harlem Nights.  However, as the 90’s came around, there was this strange washout of the 80’s, as though everybody wanted to just forget it happened.  Shows like Saved By the Bell tried to keep the neon pink, big hair and bubblegum pop alive, but I always hated that show, and I know more than a few other people who did as well.  No, the early 90’s had a cultural split.  Generation X took over and with them there was a new generation of comedies like Clerks and Dazed and Confused.  80’s film culture was more or less dead at this point. Most of the A-list comic actors of the 80’s had to adapt or fade away.  Tom Hanks and Robert Downey, Jr. became bonafide dramatic performers to cope, and they have had many successes since, but for the most part, things were not looking good for comic talents out of the 80’s.  Eddie Murphy was arguably the biggest start to fall due to this trend, coming off of a truly stellar run, he just stopped being good.  Another 48 Hours, Boomerang and The Distinguished Gentleman were all critical failures but moderate successes at the Box Office.  Then came 1994… oh, boy.

I would say that 1994 was the big turning-point in Eddie Murphy’s career.  It was a point at which he became cynical, and just started taking roles I guess he thought would earn him the most money.  Beverly Hills Cop III was one of the worst sequels of the 90’s.  It had a ton of hype surrounding it.  It was directed by John Landis, who also helmed such greats as The Kentucky Fried Movie, An American Werewolf in London, the aforementioned Trading Places, and Animal House.  It also was Eddie Murphy’s return to action comedies, which had been long-awaited by fans, and it was a well-needed respite from the hard drama that was good, but still saturating in the early-to-mid-90’s.

The movie came out, and just about everyone agreed it sucked.  The plot about a giant mascot theme park (ala, Disney) as the front for car theft and counterfeiting rings was about as interesting as it sounds.  The theme park setting was a clever idea, but not really used to any effect and Eddie Murphy just seemed bored.  Shortly after the film’s release, cast and crew began leaking bytes that Eddie Murphy was basically a pompous ass during the entire production, exercising typical Hollywood spoiled-brat behavior and a refusal to cooperate with Landis.  Murphy reportedly wanted to play the role straight, as though Axel Foley had grown up and out of his famous “wise-ass” persona.  Landis himself said that he believed Murphy was trying to make himself competitive with rising stars like Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes, casting aside his old comic stylings.  The result was a bland, boring comedy that did not have one funny or inspirational moment.  Landis said he “knew the script wasn’t any good” but he operated in hopes that improvisation and comic talent would help the movie rise above its weak screenplay.  It did not, mainly because the comedy just was not there.

Eddie Murphy had a little trouble getting roles after Beverly Hills Cop III.  He hit a slump that he would never be able to climb out of.  His films were still major releases, mind you, and they were still successful, but remember that whole thing about being more dramatic?  Well, that was a load of crap.  I chalk that up to Eddie Murphy just being an ass when he said that because he followed up Cop III with Vampire in Brooklyn, a lame horror/comedy that was severely-lacking in the qualities of both genres.  

He then, most likely out of desperation, signed on with Disney.  Disney has long been a career-killer and Eddie Murphy, though surviving Disney’s terrible run since the late 90’s (The occasionally-good Pixar movie notwithstanding), has never fully recovered.  His first film with the Disney crap-factory was the massive hit the Nutty Professor.  I hated this movie.  A lot of people found it funny but I found it obnoxious and just, well.. noxious.  Eddie Murphy can be a lot to take in, so when he’s playing multiple farting family members in fat suits spouting out annoying, loud shtick, I just want to find a high ledge and leap.  The main premise of the movie is fine, a fat: lonely doctor invents a serum that turns him into a slender player.  In the original, Jerry Lewis went from a nerdy dork to a player but, by the 90’s, Eddie Murphy was far too arrogant to play a nerdy dork, right?  Well, his character Sherman Klump (I HATE that name, by the way), was not really nerdy, just shy and embarrassed by his weight.  So, no, it isn’t the same thing.  I did not like the original Nutty Professor, and I certainly did not like the remake.

He followed that up with Metro, a by-the-numbers action comedy in the vein of Beverly Hills Cop.  It was alright.  It was certainly better than Beverly Hills Cops II and III.  Still, it was not a change to form for Murphy.  He voiced the loud-mouthed dragon Mushu in Mulan and went on to star in another dreadful Disney remake: Dr. Doolittle.

Talking animals!  Am I right?  Easy money!  Disney has long been the source for pure Hollywood cynicism and boy it does not get any more cynical than Dr. Doolittle.  This film preys on family audiences with the idea that, if we have animals run around and dub actors voices in the background, it will be funny, right?  No.  It wasn’t funny.  Still, because it was Disney, it starred Eddie Murphy, and it was a recognizable title for adults with kids, it made money.  This is exactly why Disney went through this remake binge with The Nutty Professor, Dr. Doolittle, and Flubber: Because the older audience of that time, who grew up on the originals, had kids now, and Disney was going to try to milk them for all they had while doing as little work as necessary.  Remember, at this time, Pixar was still young and Disney had not yet started to fully take credit for the fresh studio’s hard work.  Also, with Studio Ghibli still around the corner, Disney’s claim to animation dominance was sort of fading.  It was okay though, in a few years they would be able to consistently take credit (and money) from talented studios, stick their overblown logo before the film, and claim it as their own.  Disney!

Murphy went through a relatively uninteresting period after Dr. Doolittle.  He began to star in odd comedies like Bowfinger and Holy Man.  These movies were not good, and they represented a bland, soulless brand of Hollywood cinema.  They utilized the stick-popular-actors-together-on-screen and mixed that with the ebony-and-ivory formula, generating truly uninspired and uninteresting cinematic nothingness.  What’s worse is, they were essentially the same movie.  Eddie Murphy is a naive black outcast of some sort, who is exploited by a white guy who wants to use him to star in a movie/sell products through his ad agency.  There was very little to distinguish these two films, and very little to hold anyone’s interest.

Murphy starred in Life alongside Martin Lawrence, in which he and Lawrence play wrongfully-convicted men sentenced to life in a black prison in the first half of the 20th century.  It was another nothing movie.  It was, I think, meant to be a sort of spoof of the Shawshank Redemption, only it was a few years too late and played too straight.  It tried to be serious at times and these scenes just bogged the movie down in lame melodrama.

He premiered his short-lived animated TV series the P.J.’s about an apartment building superintendent, and starred in the dreadful Nutty Professor 2, which centered more on the Klump family than the actual plot.  It was terrible.  Showtime followed, which was another nothing comedy about cops working together while being filmed for a reality show.  It was bad and his co-star Robert De Niro just looked like he was sleepwalking through this tripe.

This ends part 1.  If it seems that I sort of knocked out a large chunk really fast, it is because I did.  Eddie Murphy’s 90’s run was bad, but nobody could have seen what was right around the corner.  We have yet to explore the darkest depths of this fallen star’s worst performances, so standby for the next post where we take a look at, in one single article, some of the worst comedies ever made by Hollywood.

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