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Friday, 6 September 2013

The Tragedy of Eddie Murphy

Eddie Murphy is a legend. That seems like a controversial statement to make nowadays, but it is true.  He is probably one of the most talented men in Hollywood and has films on his CV which are among some of my most beloved of all time. But something tragic happened to his career.

Speak to any soul that knows an ounce about black (African-American) comedy and they will let you know that Murphy sits upon a tall pedestal. Comedians speak of Eddie Murphy with the same reverence they give to Bill Cosby or, better yet, Richard Pryor – Murphy is truly of that stature.

But think of Murphy now and I’d bet a lot of money that the embarrassment that is Norbit or Scary Spice comes to your mind – not Raw or Delirious or Boomerang. That is a tragedy.  

The reason why Eddie still deserves to be held in such high regard is simply because of what he achieved. He blazed the trail that allowed other great comedians to walk the path to to superstardom. I still haven’t forgotten the skinny (er) and goofy (er) Chappelle with his terrible hair cut telling terrible “you’re so fat” jokes in the Nutty Professor.

I personally haven’t seen any of his earlier Saturday Night Live Stuff, I only know Eddie Murphy through his film work and it wasn’t until Beverly Hills Cop that I really started to take notice. It may sound like an over-exaggeration but Axel Foley felt like the first black superhero to me.  I saw him do things and talk to (white) people in a way that I had never seen a ‘brother’ do before. And importantly he was funny, extremely funny but as well as that, he was strong – this felt important.

And then there was Coming to America – a film which is so important to me that it would take more than just a blog to clarify. As an African kid in a stranger’s land, I could absolutely identify with Prince Akeem. The film left me in awe of the world it created to a point where I stupidly asked my father whether such a kingdom where beautiful servants woke you up in such a wonderful way existed.   

Coming to America is to me a classic and displays Murphy’s talent in the brightest of light. His many disguises add to the comedy and wonder of the film rather than distract from it like in his later exploits. The Randy Watson scene (damn it, the whole church scene) is a slice of joy. Clarence the Barber still raises a smile out of me.

Murphy also puts in a much understated performance as Prince Akeem. He plays the royal as a charismatic and dignified young man who is childlike in his excitement at being in an environment different to his extravagant home life.  Like all great leading men you believe in the premise of the story because of Eddie Murphy’s performance.

I believe it all went wrong when Eddie made a conscious effort to stop making ‘edgy’ films and cater to the family audience instead. As much as I love(d) the Nutty Professor, I believe that film was the start of the ebbing out of Murphy’s creative talent. 

Unlike Coming to America, Eddie Murphy’s prosthetics didn’t add much to The Nutty Professor  – in fact they enabled him to tell lazy fat jokes and lean on ill thought out toilet humour. 

I have absolutely no issue with the film Shrek, I actually think Eddie Murphy is great in it but the following inferior sequels are lazy (there’s that word again). I am not naive enough to say that Eddie was wrong to make those films – they generated a donkey dung (sorry) full of money but I can’t help feeling that Murphy could have done more with his time. He could have pushed himself.

The majority of films that he has had top billing in after the Nutty Professor have been tragic (there’s that word again) save from a few surprises. Eddie was actually ok in Tower Heist but this could be me giving him a petty pass.

I still believe that there is genius still left within Eddie Murphy. That genius has shown flashes of returning (Dreamgirls) but I am hoping that it makes a permanent reappearance in his future projects. Is the Beverly Hills Cop television show the right platform for his fight back? I don’t know, I have my doubts. I also shuddered when I read that Murphy was writing the Nutty Professor 3.

All I can hope for is for Eddie Murphy to be bold again – to be brave. Forget the family films, forget the fat suits – find that Eddie who wanted to push black comedy further than it has ever been before. There is a reason why Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Jamie Fox and Kevin Hart consider Eddie Murphy to be god like and hopefully the miraculous performances are not in his past.

                        Party Bear