Build up enough good will with people and they will tolerate your crap far longer than they probably should. Eddie Murphy built up a deep reservoir of good will when he was young and coming from Saturday Night Live. When was making good movies like 48 HRS, Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop and Coming To America, his last good movie.
Eddie got second, third, fourth and fifth chances when he was squandering his talent on irredeemable trash like Vampire In Brooklyn, Pluto Nash, Daddy Day Care, Norbit and Meet Dave. None of them were worthy of his time or talent, but in Eddie we trust. Sooner or later he had to make another movie that would remind us why we fell in love with Murphy in the first place.
Eh, maybe not. Eddie never pretended he wouldn’t make rotten movies if the money was right. When he made Best Defense in 1984 he was criticized for his cash grab cameo, but he shrugged it off with a quote on his IMDB page about why he accepted the part, “The door opened and four guys came in carrying a check.”
Murphy’s check for Best Defense was a million dollars. By 2002. and the horrendous The Adventures of Pluto Nash, the zeroes on the check had swelled to $20 million. .2011s Tower Heist, the latest project to yet again promise the return of Classic Eddie Murphy, fell short of expectations at the box office, but still put another $7 million into his bank account.
Murphy gave up trying to pretend he was making good movies anymore. When he turned to kid-friendly crud such as Daddy Day Care, it was to show his range. He wanted to make movies he could show his kids where he wasn’t cursing a blue streak. So what if he was playing it safe?. Make the movie, cash the check, do as little publicity as possible promoting them and move on to the next job. Murphy would kept floating along blissfully on that shrinking reservoir of good will.
Eventually, reservoirs do dry up and good will runs out. And so
A Thousand Words may not be the worst movie Murphy has made but its going to make a serious run at whatever his worst movie is. Know that “What the hell happened?” look people get when they walk into a bathroom when someone has just used it and blown it up? That’s the look Murphy should have on his face right about now.
Up to 37 reviews now at Rotten Tomatoes and all 37 reviews are rotten. You know how badly a movie has to be that not even one critic will say they kinda sorta liked it a little bit? A Thousand Words could get a thousand reviews and it would still be a rock bottom remnant that should have avoided this humiliation and gone straight to DVD.
Then again, A Thousand Words isn’t exactly new Eddie Murphy. It was finished in 2008 when Paramount was still distributing Dreamworks, sat on the shelf forgotten like leftovers in the back of the refrigerator when it got a January release date when Murphy was scheduled to host the Academy Awards. When he pulled out of the gig, Paramount moved A Thousand Words to March and into just over 1,000 theaters without pre-screening it for critics.
Any film that sits around that long and sneaks into under 2,000 screens without critics seeing it first practically screams “I suck”, but even the Paramount execs couldn’t have thought A Thousand Words would meet Bucky Larsen and Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever levels of suckage.
This is supposed to be a “high concept” flick and the pitch probably went like this: Murphy has been hexed and once he says (or writes or types) 1000 words he dies. Haw-haw!. So, you see this is a Eddie who CAN’T TALK! Who talks more than Eddie? NOBODY!
This is what is known as counter-intuitive programming. What made Axel Foley and Reggie Hammond funny the way mouths got them in and out of trouble. Taking away Murphy’s gift of gab makes about as much sense as putting a paper bag over Halle Berry’s face and expecting her acting alone will draw in audiences Murphy making funny faces and bugging out his eyes might squeeze out a giggle or two, but over 91 minutes that’s a deadly error in judgment.
All you had to look at some of the principals involved in A Thousand Words and sense impending doom. The director was. Brian Robbins who had previously bombed with Murphy on Norbit, and Meet Dave. It was written by Steve Koren whose last film was Adam Sandler’s, Jack and Jill, a multiple Razzie award nominee. One of the producers was Nicholas Cage who rivals Murphy when it comes to stars who can’t find their way to a good script with a telescope.
What makes Murphy’s Rolling Stone interview riveting reading is how nonchalantly he acknowledges his bad choices as bad choices. Responding to a question how The Nutty Professor turned his fortunes around Murphy is characteristically blunt. “I had a bunch of movies that didn’t work. People were saying, “Eddie’s not good,” so I was like, “Not good? Let me show you what I can fucking do. I’ll do something where I play all these different characters.” It’s a trip, it seems every five or six years, you have to do something to remind them that they like you. Then you get offered a bunch of stuff, because you were in a hit, and some of the movies might be shitty, but they throw so much paper at you that you can’t say no to it. That happens a bunch in this town. The problem when you’re doing those flicks for a lot of paper, though, is on TV they show your hit right next to your flop, on there forever.”
You can’t embarrass Murphy by dogging him out for using his considerable charm in front of the camera and loafing through shitty movie after shitty movie and anyone expecting to guilt-trip him into snapping out of it and start making great movies again might be waiting a while. Murphy made it clear why that’s unlikely on his IMDB page.
I know what I’m capable of doing and what I’m capable of not doing. To be perfectly honest, I’m a little afraid of doing a straight dramatic film. I’m not saying I couldn’t do it. I’m saying I’m afraid to. Everyone is afraid of failure…Every bad decision I’ve made has been based on money. I grew up in the projects and you don’t turn down money there. You take it, because you never know when it’s all going to end. I made [‘Beverly Hills Cop III because they offered me $15 million. That $15 million was worth having Roger Ebert‘s thumb up my ass.
If anyone were to offer me $15 million to write something I knew was terrible I’d question how it might affect my artistic integrity for all of 30 seconds and then I’d sign the dotted line before they could snatch the contract away. Maybe it’s time to stop punishing Murphy for making all of his best movies in his first ten years.
Murphy says he’s over his family friendly phase and wants to “do some edgy stuff.” With that thought in mind there was talk he would be working with Spike Lee on a Marion Barry biopic. Just like there was talk Murphy would make a Richard Pryor and a James Brown biopic. Not one of those projects has reached the pre-production stage of seeing the light of day.
It doesn’t matter what movie an actor says they want to make. What matters is what movies they do make and the next one for Murphy is giving voice to the old Hanna-Barbara cartoon, Hong Kong Phooey. Putting words in the mouth of a kung fu fighting’ canine is what makes up “edgy” in Eddie’s world.
It’s scary being edgy and making yet another piece of schlock for non-discriminating kids is much safer and probably much more lucrative. Murphy swaggered into that redneck bar in 48 HRS some 30 years ago as the kind of bad ass Black man mainstream Hollywood thought had disappeared with Blaxploitation B-movies. It’s time to accept for young people Murphy is best known as Donkey in Shrek.
Bad movies alone won’t kill Murphy’s career. He figured long ago he couldn’t eat critical praise and if he gets too old for physical comedy he can still make millions with his mouth even if A Thousand Words stupidly robs him of his gift of gab.
There may be setbacks in The Eddie Murphy Business but business never gets so bad he can’t make a buck with that mouth. Donkey would be proud but Axel and Reggie? Probably not so much.
- Slideshow: Eddie Murphy’s worst 10 film roles (thegrio.com)
- The Eddie Murphy You Love Is Dead [Grierson & Leitch] (gawker.com)
- ‘A Thousand Words’: Smashing hopes of Eddie Murphy comeback (seattletimes.nwsource.com)