Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ten on Tuesdays: Reasons Why I'll Never Lose Faith In Eddie Murphy

It's not easy being an Eddie Murphy fan these days. If you looked at his resume for just the past ten years, you would find a body of work that's mostly disappointing and not fitting for one of Hollywood's greatest talents. What's been so frustrating about Murphy is that he seems to be drawn to scripts that only a bank account could love. Despite his crap radar needing a tune-up, Murphy could still succeed even at this stage in his career given the right vehicle. Based on the reviews, his recent role in Tower Heist appeals more to his adult audience, which will hopefully be a direction that he continues in given that's what made him a superstar in the first place. There was the possibility that he could have reminded the world just how talented he was on a grander stage if he had stayed on as host of the Oscars, but a reminder shouldn't even be necessary given his obvious talent. That's simply what years of bad movies will do to a career. Throughout his many downs, I kept holding out hope that the next project would be the one to get him back on track. Needless to say, there has not been much encouragement for a long time, but here are ten reasons why I'll never give up on the man.

The redneck bar scene in 48 Hours
Sure, the movie is nearly 30 years old, but at the time there was a lot of excitement surrounding this scene because it showed his potential as a leading man. There is a charm and toughness here that make up part of the reason why America fell in love with him in the first place and I still feel like there is a piece of Reggie Hammond still left in Eddie Murphy at his age. A scene like this where he handles most of the dialogue would be intriguing to see now with more refined acting chops.

His stint as host of the 1985 MTV Video Music Awards
If Eddie had gotten the opportunity to host the Oscars, we could have been witness to some of the spontaneity that he showed here. At 3:20 of this clip, he walks through Radio City Music Hall accompanied by Morris Day and Glenn Frey and riffs on just about anything that comes across his path. There is a childlike fearlessness displayed here that would make him a natural to host any of the major awards show. Granted, this happened a while ago, but with enough preparation to get back into shape for live TV, he could easily create a captivating evening.

His many impersonations during Delirious
Most of the material in Delirious is still pretty spot on—especially his ice cream bit being one of the highlights—but one of the most amazing parts of the show is the wide range of eerily accurate impersonations he does, including Michael Jackson, Mr. T, Elvis Presley, James Brown and Ralph Kramden & Norton of The Honeymooners in a hilariously un-PC rumination on what it would be like if they were gay lovers. It's common knowledge that Murphy has a knack for creating his own characters, but it's very rare when a comedian can emulate well known figures so well with the jokes to back it up.

His bit on Italians and Rocky movies from Raw
Before he took on a full-time film career, Eddie Murphy was known as one of the greatest stand-up comedians of his generation and is now generally regarded as one of the best all-time. Given the choice between comfortably pulling in eight figures per movie or hitting the clubs every night for a fraction of that amount, it's understandable why Murphy has not done stand-up for decades, but the brilliance of this bit where he effortlessly and vividly switches between two characters of different races makes me sad that he may never take the stage again. There are more laughs in these four minutes than all of The Adventures of Pluto Nash.

His skit on Saturday Night Live where he went undercover as a white man
The precursor to his transformations in Coming To America and The Nutty Professor was a much more subtle affair than those raucous moments, with a lot of the best moments coming from Murphy's reaction shots. It's expected that he would commit to the character like no other, but the quizzical looks on his face after acts of kindness took it even further as the confusion of a "white man" cuts clearly through an only adequate makeup job.

The barbershop scenes in Coming To America
A lot of credit goes to Rick Baker for making Eddie and Arsenio Hall so unrecognizable, but these scenes would not have had half the magic if not for a talent such as Murphy. I think a good deal of people, including myself, were surprised when it was revealed that it was Eddie who portrayed Saul, the elderly Jewish man, during the end credits of the movie because of how there was barely any trace of him within that character. Although the magic of editing had a lot to do with how seamless the scene came off, it's still impressive that Murphy had such great timing when he was basically acting with himself.

The Klumps in The Nutty Professor
Even more impressive and arduous must have been the dinner scenes in The Nutty Professor where Murphy had to take on five characters simultaneously. Not since the likes of Peter Sellers had anyone been able to so convincingly take on multiple personas at such a high level. The movie itself did have a softer side to it, but is more noted for its lowbrow humor. I feel that fact sometimes overshadows the first rate chameleonesque skills on display here, which probably ranks as one of the most difficult comedic feats achieved in our generation.


His voiceover work in animation
It's a wonder that it took so long for Murphy to get into animation since it seemed like his manic energy would be an obvious fit for the format. Whether it was family-friendly fare such as Mulan and Shrek or something closer to what his mature fans would expect in The PJ's, animation allowed him to become completely unhinged in a way that we didn't too often see from him. It would be too much to expect the same rapid timing and delivery in live-action, so overall it was an interesting look into the how a mind such as his dealt with new rules.

Think of what he could accomplish if he always did scripts as good as Bowfinger
We've seen Eddie take on dual roles before, but never with a screenplay as smart and funny as the one penned by Steve Martin here in Bowfinger. This is one of the few Murphy films where it felt like he didn't have to try as hard to create a laugh since the elements were already there strongly in place to create something humorous. Take Eddie Murphy out of Beverly Hills Cop and you have a pretty standard movie. Take him out of Bowfinger and you'll still have a good movie, albeit slightly weaker. As much I loved Kit's one-liners and his descent into madness, I usually laugh the hardest at Jiff because his thought process is written all over his face.

The scene in Dreamgirls where his song is rejected and he goes back to doing drugs
For me, this was one of the most memorable parts of the movie because so much was said with Murphy's eyes. After his character, James "Thunder" Early, tried to get clean and change his sound to something more positive to no avail, he immediately fell back in to his old ways without any words. When there's a plea from the room to stop, he simply looked up with a devastated face and continued preparing his drugs in hopes of some solace. It was the most dramatic thing I had ever seen him do and my fingers are crossed that he'll be daring enough to tap into something that dark again one of these days. Without a doubt, he would win the Academy Award if he did so.

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