Eddie Murphy's Crimes Against Cinema

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We all remember the comic highs of 'Beverly Hills Cop' and 'Bowfinger', but Eddie Murphy has been in a fair few stinkers as well. To celebrate the release of his latest megabudget 'will-this-do?' shrugfest 'Meet Dave', Time Out to presents a handy rundown of his ten darkest cinematic hours...

Best Defence (1984)

When ‘84’s cross-processed Dudley Moore vehicle (sic), ‘Best Defence’ was originally screened to test audiences as a screwball war satire à la ‘Dr Strangelove’ meets ‘Micki + Maude’, the general reaction was that 90 minutes of Moore clad in a brown cord jacket and kipper tie, half-heartedly (and no doubt drunkenly) hareing around an LA back-lot with KGB agents on his tail would not fly with the Haight-Ashbury massive. Lucky for all concerned, an on-set intern had the idea of splicing in some stock footage of Eddie Murphy driving around the Mojave Desert in a commandeered tank, shouting ‘I love Iraq!’ to a bunch of extras with boot-polished faces and tea towels on their heads. Murphy would later air his thoughts on ‘Best Defense’ live on national television which, due to their extreme content, cannot be relayed on this site. Laughs to budget ratio: 70%

The Golden Child (1986)

The Golden Child’ was a movie both behind and ahead of its time. In its wholesale appropriation of Eastern cultural symbols into the Hollywood blockbuster it lagged behind both ‘The Karate Kid’ (1984) and ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ (1985). But as an overblown, over-budget, wildly unfunny vehicle for a mugging and sorely miscast Eddie, the film eerily anticipates later tragedies like ‘Pluto Nash’ and ‘Meet Dave’. Here, Eddie travels from LA to Tibet in search of the titular chosen moppet, pursued by a skeletal demon played creepily by Charles Dance until all his skin falls off and he turns into something Ray Harryhausen shat out one wet Sunday afternoon.
Laughs to budget ratio:
40%

Eddie Murphy Raw (1987)

Eddie’s first stand-up video ‘Delirious’ (1983) was a patchy but memorably foul-mouthed Richard Pryor tribute, beloved of rebellious schoolchildren everywhere. But it’s a squeaky-clean cuddlefest compared to the follow-up. 'Raw' stunned audiences with a tirade of anti-feminist invective, foul-mouthed and fearsomely belligerent. Fresh from a nasty divorce, he uses his 90-minute routine as nothing less than comic abuse, a sort of ‘Nil by Mouth’, by mouth. There are diversions: Eddie takes the opportunity to berate Bill Cosby, hurl a few racial insults and discuss his own faeces. But it’s the ‘bitches’ who bear the brunt. Worst of all, its not even that funny.Laughs to budget ratio: Unapplicable

Harlem Nights (1989)

Murphy wrote, directed and starred in this decidedly rum period comedy opposite Richard Pryor (still ‘hot’ from ‘Hear No Evil, See No Evil’) which, if nothing else, showed that the silver-tongued homme des gags had the capacity to make terrible films even having starred in some sizeable hits. When a harmless back-room dice game descends into fevered gunplay, a bond is wrought between handlebar-moustached ringleader Sugar Ray (Pryor) and smart-mouthed errand boy Quick (Murphy). Unluckily for the Paramount accounts dept (the film cost a cool $30 million to make), the pair decide to develop a nightclub/brothel empire in Harlem in which they strut around in cream suits, brush scantily clad women into the gutter and swear like it's going out of fashion.
Laughs to budget ration: 10%

Vampire in Brooklyn (1995)

About as tonally awkward as a society ball held in a Russian slum, Wes Craven’s sub-‘Blacula’ comic horror blockbuster managed to be neither funny nor horrific. With Milli Vanilli locks and a light Jamaican patois, Murphy feels lost at sea as nouveau riche vacationing vampire Maximillian, who heads to New York in order to keep his dwindling family line from ending. One minute Eddie’s spouting terrible joke-book horror gags about how he ‘likes to suck’ and has ‘just eaten’ etc, then we’re treated to revolting close-up shots of him tearing some guy’s heart out and stamping on it like a cigarette butt. The final shot sets up a sequel, but thankfully, it appears no one of import actually got that far. Laughs to budget ratio: How low can you go?

Holy Man (1998)

Murphy breaks out the fish, barrel and shotgun to have a crack at ‘consumerism’, represented by a gaudy home-shopping channel buckling under the weight of Jeff Goldblum’s Special Acting Style. Eddie plays G, a smiling guru whose accidental intrusion into the lives of TV execs Goldblum and Kelly Preston lands the channel with his serene screen presence, hawking redemptive aphorisms along with the tat. Following the clear economic patterns laid out in Milton Friedman’s 'Screw You, Look At My Yacht', the presence of a white-robed simpleton spouting Christmas-cracker philosophy causes sales to rocket and Goldblum and Preston to become better, less stressed yuppies. Oh, and richer too. It’s another spiritual enema from the director of ‘Mr Holland’s Opus’, Stephen Herek, whose next move was into real comedy with Mark Wahlberg in ‘Rock Star’. Laughs to budget ratio: None. But also an infinite number.

Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (2000)

Having felt that he didn’t say enough on the subject of a morbidly obese professor who was able to turn himself into a nubile, sexually voracious stud with the aid of a slimming potion, Murphy decided to re-whir the crankshaft of the already rickety Jerry Lewis vehicle for this sequel in which the star again satisfies his narcissistic urge to play multiple characters. With Janet Jackson on board and a story about vulgar extended family members and gaseous emissions, this laugh-neutral flab farce is probably not the worst movie to emerge from Eddie’s canon, but it’s arguably the one that spawned the ‘fat is funny’ mantra that seems to taint most mainstream Hollywood comedy these days.
Laughs to budget ratio:
With a budget of £84 million, that’s £21m per laugh.

The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002)

Like a flatulent astronaut, the studio waited ages to sneak this one out only to leave everyone feeling browned off. Murphy dusts down his Ladies Man persona as Nash, an ex-con busily turning his run-down nightclub on the moon into a lunar Stringfellows. Naturally, the sudden success of this venture attracts the attention of some kind of moon mob, meaning Murphy has less time to spend purring at Rosario Dawson or horsing around with his robot chum Dennis Quaid and must engage in a series of largely pointless chases in space cars amid a tuppenny-ha’penny approximation of the set of 'Space Precinct'. There is no truth to the rumour that the DVD release has hard-of-hearing subtitles in which every line spoken is transcribed as 'Where’s my paycheck?'
Laughs to budget ratio:
1 to 100 million (US dollars)

The Marketing of Shrek (2001-infinity)

Crass, brash and seemingly neverending, the overbearing cynicism of the ‘Shrek’ movies themselves is only exceeded by the monstrous marketing behemoth that has sprung up around them. A sneering, adolescent lampoon of genuinely magical Disney classics in whose shadow this insignificant piffle isn’t fit to linger, the Shrek series has one consistent saving grace, and ironically it’s Eddie Murphy: his Donkey is the only likeable character in the entire affair, and that’s not just down to the writing. But sadly, Eddie’s just as willing to pander to the whims of the marketing Satan as everyone else involved, which leaves us facing pitiful online clips and cheap, pop-culture referencing DVD extras like ‘Far, Far Away Idol’ and the ‘Shrek the Halls’ TV extravaganza, the most heinous piece of movie-themed festive in-cashing since the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'.
Laughs to budget ratio:
Hard to judge

Norbit (2007)

The Zimbabwe edition of Africa News was curiously out of step with world opinion when it described Murphy’s performance in 'Norbit' as 'the most remarkable cinematic tour de force we have ever seen'. For the rest of mankind, the stupid, venal, grossly huge Rasputia (Murphy) tussling for the love of Norbit (Murphy) against Thandie Newton (Newton) played rather too much like a eugenics propaganda movie liberally stuffed with fart jokes. With no redeeming features beyond the ability to repeatedly sexually assault her naive husband, there’s no hope for Rasputia against Newton’s superior woman – slim, beautiful and, crucially, not a man in a latex fatsuit. Her untermensch, overweight misadventures are cut with enough bile to drown any laughs but the film strives not to be pigeon-holed as simply misogynist: its harpoon-obsessed generic comic oriental, Mr Wong (Murphy), is a turn in racial stereotyping to rival the masterly Bao Chai’s Screaming Gook No 2 in Cimino’s ‘The Deer Hunter’.Laughs to budget ratio: 18%

Author: Paul Fairclough, David Jenkins and Tom Huddleston.


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