As I was starting to write about the latest comeback of sorts by Eddie Murphy, news dropped that Brett Ratner was asked to leave his post as producer of the Academy Awards. Knowing Eddie Murphy’s career choices like I know his career choices, I expected Murphy to leave the show as host and soon enough, that was the case. Now, Brian Grazer who worked on recently released Tower Heist along with Ratner and Murphy, is tapped to replace Ratner. Maybe Murphy can still be asked back? Who knows. I wouldn’t bet on it.
The news is disappointing to say the least because hosting the show could’ve been such a bonanza for Murphy’s career. If you were born in the 70s or before, you remember Murphy for classic 80s films like Beverly Hills Cop, 48 Hours, Trading Places, and Coming To America. He was one of the five biggest stars of the era. If you were born in the 80s, your memory is slanted more towards kiddie stuff, save for his brilliant turn in Dreamgirls. And then except for The Nutty Professor, Bowfinger and Boomerang, his stuff in the middle is probably forgotten.
His role as Slide in his latest release Tower Heist is an absolute show stealer. He becomes the center of attention in every scene he’s in. Ben Stiller might be the lead, but it’s Eddie Murphy’s movie.
Murphy’s fast talking, slick walking criminal character is actually an extension of the Axel Foley and Reggie Hammond characters he made famous. His character doesn’t have much depth because the movie is chopped and cut up with quick edits that make it a bit hard to digest, but he does well with the time he has. With his recent interview in The Rolling Stone and his drop-ins on late night television shows, it made me wonder if Murphy was going back to what made him great. He’s always asked about doing stand up comedy again and in the mid-90s, he promised to get back on the stage, but never did. Recently, he seemed open to it again.
I have two kids aged 11 and 12 and all they knew about Murphy was that he voiced Donkey on Shrek. To them, he wasn’t special, like Adam Sandler is to their generation. Sandler does prat falls and tells pee jokes, so to them, he’s a funny guy. I took them with me to see Tower Heist simply because I wanted them to see Murphy at his best. It was also a litmus test. Could Eddie Murphy at 50-years old still shine on screen like he had when I was younger?
The movie is a hard PG-13 where language is concerned, but nothing they couldn’t handle. After the movie was over, I asked my 12-year old what his favorite part of the movie was and he answered, “Anytime Eddie Murphy opened his mouth.” My 11-year old thought he was hilarious. My job was complete.
If Eddie Murphy was going to make his latest comeback, Tower Heist was an excellent start. Hosting the Academy Awards would’ve been a tremendous follow-up, even better than the publicity any movie could give him. But, by opting out of the gig (and really, maybe he was forced out, but I’d be surprised if he was), he seems to be saying that he doesn’t really care about how he’s viewed, which is absolutely his prerogative.
It reminded me of the time I saw him on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, right before the release of The Nutty Professor in 1997. Leno tried to portray this as the return of the real Eddie Murphy. But Eddie shot back LL Cool J style (don’t call it a comeback) and said, “I never left.”
If Murphy doesn’t think he needs to make a comeback to the greatness he once showed, should it matter so much to fans?