Take More Chances, Eddie Murphy!
Eddie, you teased us. After 2012’s bumbling A Thousand Words, you made the strategic decision to lay low, gathering your considerable comedy resources for a comeback fueled by renewed raucous rocket fuel. After years of misfires (Norbit, Meet Dave) and kiddie comedies (Imagine That, Daddy Day Care), you returned with a vengeance in 2019. And Dolemite was your name.
Dolemite Is My Name was a mother-effing detonation of profanity and pleasure, a resurgent performance for the ages from the man who was once the biggest comedy star in the world. Both the movie and Eddie earned Golden Globe nominations, and for the first time since Dreamgirls, Murphy received serious Oscar buzz. But forget the critical applause -- the movies were electric again! The fallow years were over! Eddie Murphy was back!
Well, that’s what we’d hoped, anyway. After years of playing it safe, Eddie was back out on the edge and audiences loved him for it. The public was sending a clear message to Murphy -- get weird! Talk dirty! Take chances! But in the afterglow of Dolemite Is My Name, Murphy seems to have gone back to kid stuff and retreads, a comedy career choice that simply makes no sense. Let’s take a look at what’s next for Murphy -- and why we think there’s still hope.
How Many Times Can You Revisit Donkey?
Murphy’s habit of regurgitating past successes has been going on for a hot minute. There’s no better example than Donkey, Shrek’s (literal) smart-ass sidekick. Murphy’s comic energy was fresh and welcome in the original Shrek, making his appearances in Shrek 2, Shrek the Third, and Shrek Forever After foregone conclusions.
But did you also realize Murphy has lent his voice as Donkey in:
* Father of the Pride
* Far Far Away Idol
* Shrek the Halls
* Donkey’s Christmas Shrektacular
* Shrek’s Yule Log
* Shrek’s Thrilling Tales
* Puss in Boots: The Three Diablos
* Scared Shrekless
We get the concept of a cash grab, but maybe it’s time to put the ass to bed.
My Name Is Dolemite promised a more adventurous path forward post-Donkey, but Murphy instead celebrated the past when he made his triumphant return to Saturday Night Live. It’s the institution he once undeniably saved from cancellation, then famously shunned for decades after David Spade made a stupid joke about Murphy’s stalled career.
Murphy could have come in and blown off the doors with a dazzling array of new characters (he must have had a couple of ideas over the past 40 years), but instead, he took the “REO Speedwagon at the county fair” route and played the hits. Sure, you’d expect Eddie to revisit a favorite or two but his (admittedly great!) return featured a whole flashmob, including Gumby, Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood, Velvet Jones, and Buckwheat.
But arguably, Murphy's biggest response that night was late in the show when he appeared as a hysterical elf reeling from a polar bear attack on Santa’s workshop. Wouldn’t it have been better if Eddie gave us more of this?
Revisiting the 80s
Is Eddie taking his SNL retro-approach back to the big screen? Moviegoers could have hoped for a true Eddie renaissance after Dolemite, its success earning him a pet project or two. But instead, Murphy has a depressing docket of sequels on the horizon, including:
Coming 2 America - Murphy’s first Dolemite follow-up came out in 2021, an Amazon Prime sequel to Murphy’s 1998 smash that struck out with both audiences and critics. Rotten Tomatoes sums up the moviegoer consensus as “a lazy reliance on callbacks and a story that rehashes the first film.”
Beverly Hills Cop: Axel Foley is filming right now, the fourth movie in a franchise that began in 1984. Eddie, we understand the concept of “give the people what they want,” but is a fourth Beverly Hills Cop really what the people are asking for?
Then there’s Triplets, a sequel to Twins, the goofy 1988 comedy that imagined Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito as long-lost, and presumably fraternal, twins.
Just imagine the laughs when the aging stars discover they have another brother -- and he’s black! What??? They used to call these kinds of comedies “high concept,” we’re guessing because it helps to be high to enjoy them.
Finally, there’s Candy Candy Lane, which sounds very much like a return to Murphy’s run of kiddie films. No plot details have been revealed yet, but it’s based on screenwriter Kelly Younger’s childhood holiday experiences. Considering most of Younger’s screen credits involve Muppets and Moana, it’s not hard to imagine another family-friendly pile of bland amusement.
So here we are. Hot off the success of Dolemite, Murphy has used his newfound clout to reboot three movie franchises that were popular four decades ago, as well as return to kid pix. It’s frustrating only because Murphy has proven that he’s capable of so much more. Sure, not every director would want to work with him, but we can imagine quite a few who would. How about Murphy in a Tarantino movie? Let’s hook Eddie up with the Safdie brothers, Ryan Coogler or Jordan Peele. Heck, we’d love to see him in one of Rian Johnson’s Knives Out movies -- at least it’s a contemporary franchise.
But Murphy has one project on the horizon that gives us a glimmer of hope. He’s signed on to You People, the directorial debut for Kenya (Black-ish) Barris with a script from Jonah Hill. The cast is killer -- in addition to Murphy, there’s Hill, Lauren London, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, David Duchovney, Nia Long, and Sam Jay. What’s it about? For now, all we’re getting is “a new couple and their families find themselves examining modern love and family dynamics amidst clashing cultures, societal expectations, and generational differences.”
Huh. Could be anything but with the pedigree of the folks involved, it sounds like something to take a chance on. And taking a chance is exactly what we’re begging Murphy to do.
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Top image: Netflix