Driver's EDitorial #03: Eddie Who?
Our Driver’s EDitorial is a weekly column designed to express our opinion on something going on in Hollywood today. Sometimes we whine and complain about something we wish was different, other times we heap praise on the system for getting it right.
With the June release of IMAGINE THAT, Eddie Murphy continues to allow the whole of the current generation to ask, “This guy was a star once?” The answer comes loudly from the preceding generations who were old enough to comprehend comedy in 1982 as an emphatic “Yes!” But we can understand their confusion. IMAGINE THAT is just another in a line of unfunny attempts by Eddie to tap into the family market that still remembers him as the guy with the Donkey voice from SHREK. MEET DAVE back in 2008 was Eddie’s attempt to take Elizabeth Banks down with him, and it followed the 2007 train wreck in a fat suit named NORBIT, which I am convinced cost him an Oscar for DREAMGIRLS. Note to Eddie: Release the terrible movie after you have the statue in hand, take cues from Halle Berry (CATWOMAN) and Charlize Theron (AEON FLUX).
Before the NORBIT debacle and in between cashing checks from Dreamworks, Eddie was batting a negative thousand with DADDY DAY CARE, I SPY, THE ADVENTURES OF PLUTO NASH… and this is where I stop, though believe me I could go on. What’s all the more frustrating is the simplicity of the solution, which can be broken down into an equation of simple parts discovered through research of the great Eddie Murphy comedies of yesteryear. Yesteryear in this case, however, precedes THE NUTTY PROFESSOR. Not to say this was not a funny movie – it actually looked like it might spark a Murphy resurgence – but the “put the comedian in a fat suit” gimmick is comedy shorthand. It’s cheating. [This goes for you too, Martin Lawrence (BIG MOMMA’S HOUSE) and Robin Williams (MRS. DOUBTFIRE.)]
The formula for Eddie’s success starts with a big capital letter: the letter “R.” All the great comedy from Eddie, from his stand up releases to his action franchises, comes with a little nudity (thankfully not Eddie) and a whole lot of f-bombs. Family friendly might be what he’s aiming for now, but it is not his wheelhouse.
Follow this up with a white partner. In 48 HOURS, Nick Nolte was the reluctant Jack Cates teaming with Reggie Hammond to track cop killers, and the white/black conflict wasn’t played for subtlety; Nolte called Eddie “charcoal colored” and a “spearchucker.” Contrast this with the subtle racist undertones of the upper class Beverly Hills elite and the polite, uber-white cops in BEVERLY HILLS COP, where Eddie teaches Taggart and Rosewood how to get their law enforcement groove on. And add to this the integration taught to us in TRADING PLACES with Dan Akroyd’s Winthorp teaching Billy Ray Valentine, and all of us, the finer points of Wall Street floor trading (though for the life of me I still don’t understand that ending). No matter what people say about how far we’ve progressed in race relations, we still like black/white conflict in our comedies.
And finally, let Eddie be Eddie. Each of the great comedies from ’82 to ’90 has at least one great Eddie Murphy scene that people will talk about, quote and imitate for years to come. COMING TO AMERICA’s barbershop scene has been quoted infinitely since its release in 1988. The “I don’t like white people” rant from 48 HOURS gives Eddie a boisterous comic monologue so funny they gave him an almost identical one in ANOTHER 48 HOURS. And the characters Axel Foley had to come up with on the fly during his investigations in BEVERLY HILLS COP 1 and 2 (the warehouse customs inspector, the flaming gay lover to Victor Maitland, Johnny Wishbone the Jamaican psychic) were a mélange of voices and personalities pulled from Eddie’s stand up and Saturday Night Live characters which still illicit laughs to this day.
Comedy does not always translate though the generations. The Three Stooges and Groucho Marx probably wouldn’t get the ratings of “The Office” these days. However, Eddie Murphy’s films from 1982 to 1990 still work today, but without something current to remind the present generation of his talent, especially with only ridiculous attempts like NORBIT and MEET DAVE, those films and even Murphy himself, will continue to be ____________________________________.