Tower Heist, perhaps the most unimaginatively titled movie of the year (and that’s no mean feat, following Bad Teacher and Horrible Bosses), is out this Friday, and whatever interest it might have rustled up with its stellar cast of character actors (including Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck, Téa Leoni, Judd Hirsch, and Gabby Sidibe) and impressive screenwriters (Ocean’s 11’s Ted Griffin and Catch Me if You Can’s Jeff Nathanson) are pretty much cancelled out by two participants: director Brett Ratner, who has managed to kill every potential franchise he’s touched (with the unfortunate exception of his own Rush Hour movies), and co-star Eddie Murphy.
The fact that Murphy is playing an ex-con (like 48 HRS., remember? Back when he was funny?) in a movie not aimed at four-year-olds, and is actually bothering to do the slightest bit of publicity (in the form of a Rolling Stone interview — more on that later) seems to have folks feverishly talking “comeback” or “return to form” or whatever. This notion requires two giant leaps: 1) ignoring the Tower Heist trailer, which shows Murphy doing the same tired tough-guy schtick and exaggerated “street” patter as the execrable I Spy, and 2) overlooking the fact that he’s done exactly two good movies since 1999 (Bowfinger and Dreamgirls). We’re over Eddie Murphy, and after the jump, we’ll tell you why.
10. The Rolling Stone Interview
In spite of the fact that he hasn’t been in an even modestly successful film that didn’t have the word Shrek in its title in well over four years, Murphy has somehow managed to skillfully avoid doing any press or promotion for his terrible movies; you’d think at some point in the negotiating process, some savvy producer might point out that his pictures’ grosses indicate that they perhaps need that little push that ten minutes on Leno’s couch can provide. Whatever the reason, he’s decided to give a rare print interview to Rolling Stone. They’ve only posted highlights, but those include this doozy, on the long-rumored Beverly Hills Cop IV:
They’re not doing it. What I’m trying to do now is produce a TV show starring Axel Foley’s son, and Axel is the chief of police now in Detroit. I’d do the pilot, show up here and there. None of the movie scripts were right; it was trying to force the premise. If you have to force something, you shouldn’t be doing it. It was always a rehash of the old thing. It was always wrong.
As far as we can tell, that is not an edited quote, meaning that — in a bit of conversational whiplash that would could break a neck — Eddie Murphy proposes a “Son of Foley” television show in one breath, and warns against forcing a “rehash of the old thing” with his next. Logic is hard!
9. The Richard Pryor biopic
We’ve devoted space previously to Richard Pryor: Is It Something I Said?, the terrific-sounding film biography of Murphy’s biggest comic hero (and Harlem Nights co-star). Bill Condon, who directed Murphy to his first and so far only Oscar nomination in Dreamgirls, was slated to write and direct, and Murphy was lined up to star — and based on his passion for the subject (and his flawless Pryor impression in Eddie Murphy: Raw, above), it was a helluva good match. And then Murphy left the project due to “creative differences,” and though Marlon Wayans was quickly drafted to fill the role, the film stalled while Condon went off to inexplicably take on the Twilight franchise. Murphy probably had good reasons for leaving, though, and presumably didn’t run into any of those troublesome creative conflicts while starring in Imagine That.
8. The SNL Snubs
Saturday Night Live was, of course, Eddie’s big break; he was cast on the show at a mere 19 years old, during perhaps its worst season of all time (the first following the departures of creator Lorne Michaels and much of the original cast), yet managed to slowly work his way into the foreground with his uproarious characterizations of Mr. Robinson (above), Gumby, Buckwheat, and many others. And, in all fairness, it should be noted that Murphy’s talent may very well have saved the show. But the point is, he owes much of his success to SNL — yet he has steadfastly refused to participate in a single reunion show or retrospective project, from the prime-time specials and docs to Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller’s invaluable SNL oral history Live from New York. He just kinds of acts like Saturday Night Live doesn’t exist. In that Rolling Stone interview, he confirms the long-held rumors as to why he’s frozen it out:
They were shitty to me on Saturday Night Live a couple of times after I’d left the show. They said some shitty things. There was that David Spade sketch [when Spade showed a picture of Murphy around the time of Vampire In Brooklyn and said, ‘Look, children, a falling star’]. I made a stink about it, it became part of the folklore. What really irritated me about it at the time was that it was a career shot.
Okay, on one hand, we get it. And on the other — c’mon, Eddie, have you seen Vampire in Brooklyn?
7. The Oscars
In the Rolling Stone interview, Murphy addresses another long-held bit of corroborating evidence of his childish temperament: that he stormed out of the 2007 Academy Awards after Alan Arkin beat him out for Best Supporting Actor (Murphy was up for Dreamgirls, above). His version of the story:
Alan Arkin’s performance in Little Miss Sunshine is Oscar-worthy, it’s a great performance. That’s just the way the shit went. He’s been gigging for years and years, the guy’s in his seventies. I totally understood and was totally cool. I wasn’t like, ‘What the fuck?’ Afterward, people were like, ‘He’s upset,’ and I’m like, ‘I wasn’t upset!’ What happened was after I lost, I’m just chilling, and I was sitting next to Beyoncé’s pops, and he leans over and grabs me and is like, [solemn voice] ‘There will be other times.’ And then you feel Spielberg on your shoulder going, ‘It’s all right, man.’ Then Clint Eastwood walks by: ‘Hey, guy… ‘ So I was like, ‘It’s not going to be this night!’
Again, we have two reactions to this explanation: a) that seems reasonable, and b) every other actor who ever lost the Oscar managed, somehow, to tough it out for the rest of the night. Suck it up, Eddie!
Though it’s been subjected to a bit of a backlash in the years since its release, primarily due to the nauseating direction it prompted his career to take (more on that later), we’ll go to bat for the first Nutty Professor movie: it’s a genuinely funny picture, Murphy’s multi-character work was inspired (and had not yet become the hackwork it became), and there are real pathos in it — many critics rightly pointed out at the time that if the Academy Awards actually took comedies seriously, Murphy’s first nomination would’ve been for Sherman Klump. What’s more, the movie was a revelation after years of Murphy’s tired, formulaic, uninspired Beverly Hills Cop sequels and rip-offs. So he followed up his biggest critical and financial hit in years with… Metro, another tired, formulaic, uninspired Beverly Hills Coprip-off.
Speaking of which… It’s an all-but-forgotten film, particularly among the run of tripe that was Murphy’s 2000s filmography, but we still haven’t forgiven Murphy and shameless paycheck casher Robert DeNiro for teaming up in this asinine action-comedy that somehow manages to simultaneously siphon elements of The Hard Way, Murphy’s Beverly Hills Cop, DeNiro’s 15 Minutes, and countless limp realty TV satires. There was a time, about twenty years before it was released, when a Murphy-DeNiro pairing would have prompted limitless excitement and lines around the block. In 2002, it couldn’t even earn back its budget.
4. The music career
Eddie wasn’t the first movie or television star to try and parlay his acting success into a music career, and he probably won’t be the last. But few managed to come up with such miserable results (okay, fine, Paris Hilton wins); Murphy’s discography includes such cringe-inducing numbers as the tuneless “Whatzupwitu” (with Michael Jackson, yay?), “Put Your Mouth on Me,” and the soulless, mindless, Rick James-produced “Party All the Time,” a song whose rise to #2 on the Billboard Pop charts gives you some idea of the power of Eddie Murphy’s fame in 1985. We were buying anything Eddie was selling in the year after Beverly Hills Cop — even this horrid slab of pseudo-disco.
3. The family movies
In the 1980s and early 1990s, Murphy was the king of the R-rated movie, knocking out one box office hit after another with his dirty-mouthed blend of comedy and action. But audiences weren’t showing up any more by the mid-1990s, and when he had a PG-13 hit with The Nutty Professor, Eddie went where the money was, spending the next decade and a half grinding out a series of family-friendly vehicles of steadily decreasing quality: Dr. Doolittle, Nutty Professor II, Dr. Doolittle 2, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Daddy Day Care, The Haunted Mansion, Meet Dave, Imagine That, and the still-unreleased A Thousand Words. With each one, the memory of cool, hip, effortlessly funny Eddie grew dimmer, slowly replaced by the image of the bland, dull, unamusing purveyor of “family entertainment.” In Rolling Stone, Murphy says that he’s done with those films. “I don’t have any interest in that right now,” he says. “There’s really no blueprint, but I’m trying to do some edgy stuff.” (The magazine does not indicate whether he mentioned that “edgy stuff” before or after the proposed Beverly Hills Cop TV show.) We’ll give him this, though: those kid flicks weren’t the worst movies of Murphy’s career…
That honor would go to Norbit, a loathsome, distasteful “comedy” consisting of one joke, told over and over and over and over and over again: that fat people are physically repulsive, disgusting creatures, deserving of what amounts to an hour and forty-two interminable minutes of pointing and laughing. It’s angry, offensive, misogynistic — and, most importantly, there’s not a single laugh to be found in it. Murphy’s defenders (and they’re still out there) will insist that it’s not that he stopped being funny, but that the good material dried up. Norbit lets us call bullshit on that myth, since one of the script’s four credited writers is, yep, Eddie Murphy. So you can put the blame squarely on Eddie for this vile, hateful picture.
1. “Faggots” and “Faggots Revisited”
When despairing of what Murphy became, when lamenting his transformation from foul-mouthed comic genius to Disneyfied automaton, it is tempting to simply shrug off his later work and note that you can always go back to the holy trinity of Murphy’s early stand-up work: the album Eddie Murphy and the concert films Delirious (released on wax as Eddie Murphy: Comedian) and Raw. But even those experiences go awry when you sit down to watch or listen to them, because in each, right there at the beginning, are Murphy’s loathsome homophobic rants (given the imaginative titles above on the two albums). Filled with that special kind of snickering hate, obvious fear, and utter misinformation specific to 1980s stand-up, these unfortunate bits (which he has since apologized for, sort of) are only enlightening in one sense: in light of his notorious “Good Samaritan” arrest with a transvestite hooker in May of 1997, those routines now have the unmistakable air of a young man who doth protest too much.
So what do you think — are you over Eddie too? Or are you going to give him, and Tower Heist, a chance?