The Curious Case of Eddie Murphy – Part Six

When I last left you in Eddie Murphyland in my first Curious Case of series it was 2006 and Eddie was receiving raves for his first real dramatic performance in Dreamgirls, with his fantastic performance as a drug addicted soul singer.

Many Oscar watchers predicted he would win for Best Supporting Actor. But it wasn’t to be. Alan Arkin took home the statue for his role in Little Miss Sunshine. Many in Hollywood speculated that one part of the reason Murphy lost (when he was a front runner) was his Dreamgirls follow-up, which was released right around the time Academy members were casting their ballots: 2007’s Norbit.

With a screenplay credited partly to Eddie and his brother Charlie, Norbit has its star playing multiple characters and is clearly trying to capitalize on his Nutty Professor success. It was savaged by critics and maybe a little too harshly. It’s not a terrible film by any means – it has some funny moments, though it’s not exactly memorable. Part of the critical drubbing may have been due to the fact that those same critics saw what Eddie was capable of in Dreamgirls. Nevertheless, Norbit was a box office success, earning $95 million.

Eddie would have another box office success in the summer of 2007, voicing Donkey again in Shrek the Third. 

The summer of 2008 brought us Meet Dave, a comedy/sci fi flick geared towards families. It stars Eddie in a fish out of water tale as an alien who’s come to Earth with various characters living inside his “human form”. Sound weird and confusing? Yep, it is. And audiences didn’t know what to make of it – so they stayed away to disastrous box office results. Meet Dave made an awful $11 million, a little shy of its reported $60 million budget. Strangely enough, I actually thought Meet Dave was halfway decent (I’m in the minority on this one) and it does provide Murphy with some great moments of physical comedy.  Not his best by a long shot, but not his worst either.

2009’s family comedy Imagine That didn’t fair much better, earning only $16 million. This one stars Murphy as an overworked Dad whose daughter hears voices that provide him with great financial advice. Sound weird and confusing? Yep, it is. And unlike Meet Dave, this one is just pretty mediocre stuff.

Summer 2010 would bring Shrek Forever After, Murphy’s last time as the beloved Donkey. The wonderful reviews this series had received didn’t apply to the fourth entry, but it still managed to make a lot of money.

Murphy would actually shoot the movie A Thousand Words as his next project, starring as an overworked Dad (see a theme here?) who discovers he only has a thousand words left to say and then he’ll die. Sound weird and confusing? Yep, it is and it’s not too good either, save for a few funny moments. It only made $18 million.

The release date of A Thousand Words would be postponed until March 2012 however to coincide with Murphy hosting the Academy Awards, hoping that exposure would hopefully give Words exposure. Murphy was slated to host the 2011 Oscars, but ended up backing out when the show’s producer Brett Ratner was fired after making controversial comments in an interview.

Murphy agreed to host the show based on Ratner’s involvement, who directed him in a comeback movie of sorts: Tower Heist, released in November of last year. Billed as a return to Murphy being a wise-ass character like we saw in the 1980s, Heist boasts an all-star cast that includes Ben Stiller, Alan Alda, Casey Affleck, Michael Pena, and Tea Leoni. And while Tower Heist is nowhere near as good as Murphy’s comedy classics, I thought it was a lot of fun. And it was especially fun seeing Eddie play a foul-mouthed jewel thief after seeing him play so many overworked Dads and donkeys over the past few years. Audience reaction was pretty strong too, with Heist pulling in $78 million.

Since that film’s release a year ago, Murphy is not currently attached to any projects. My hope is that he takes a break from family comedies, which he has hinted he will. I hope he starts working with more established directors, many of whom grew up worshiping him (as Heist director Ratner did). And I hope he tries to branch out with more dramatic roles, as Dreamgirls proved he could do well.

Recently, Spike TV ran a tribute to Murphy, with comedic actors like Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Jamie Foxx, and others heaping praise on the star. He deserves it. Murphy is my favorite stand-up comedian of all time. His classics – 48 HRS, Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, and Coming to America are some of the best comedic movies ever, with other near classics like The Nutty Professor and Bowfinger worth a second mention too. He should’ve won the Oscar for Dreamgirls. And his place in children’s animated features is certainly secure with Donkey. On top of all that, he is probably the greatest performer in the history of “Saturday Night Live”. Not bad, huh? Sure, he’s had his (pretty big) share of mediocre movies, but Murphy is a true comedic genius. He’s been brilliant a lot in movies. In other films, he seems bored. Murphy needs the material to match his immense talent and that hasn’t always been the case, to say the least. But when the material matches Murphy’s abilities, it’s something to behold.

And there we have it – close to 5000 words in this six-part series covering one of my favorite performers. I’ve enjoyed writing this series and revisiting Eddie’s career. I leave you with a clip from Delirious and Eddie’s amazing James Brown impression. Enjoy.

 

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