B-Movies Extended: Is Eddie Murphy’s Career Your Fault?

He's stuck in family comedies and banal Twins sequels and only you can stop it. Find out how.

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani


Sax and Blair did okay, right? On the last episode of The B-Movies Podcast here in the vast sea of CraveOnline, the show was playfully hijacked by Sax “Bulldozer” Carr and Blair “Angel Eyes” Marnell as part of an epic April Fool's Week prank. The two are better known for their TV podcast The Idiot Box, so they didn't spend nearly as much time complaining about the film news as William “Bibbs” Bibbiani and I would have done, but they still had a quiet and brief and intelligent discourse on American Reunion.

Sex and Blair commented on a few things that I would like to comment on. No, I'm not going to be a whiner and correct anything they may have gotten wrong. I'm typically the one to get things wrong. No. They commented (and this bit of news made me a little bit sad), that a sequel to Twins is in the works. You remember Twins, right? It was the 1988 feature film about malevolent twin gynecologists, both played by Jeremy Irons, who simultaneously seduced Genevieve Bujold. No wait. That was Dead Ringers. Twins was the oddball 1988 Ivan Reitman comedy film wherein Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito played long-separated fraternal twin brothers. There was one joke in the film and it was the visual juxtaposition of putting the two next to each other. The film's humor wasn't too much more sophisticated than its poster, although the script was probably a lot more witty than I remember from when I was 10. In the proposed sequel, it will be revealed that the twins are actually triplets, and Eddie Murphy will play their third triplet. Comedy, presumably, ensues.

Bulldozer and Angel Eyes sort of snarfed at this news (as did most of you when you read about it just now), and posited that Eddie Murphy would have been a great choice in the role in the 1980s. These days, Murphy is best known for a string of high-concept, poorly reviewed and low-earning family fare like Meet Dave, Imagine That and A Thousand Words. The sassy foulmouthed Murphy I grew up with seems to be an extinct creature, and the hardworking doofus Murphy has taken his place.

And while Murphy's more recent output does seem to be softer and dumber than some of his work from the 1980s (and I can't say for sure; I haven't seen very many of them, although I have seen a Thai bootleg DVD of Norbit), he's clearly still willing to give himself to various roles, and play up his shtick as powerfully as he once did. The comments on The B-Movies Podcast only serve to illustrate how unforgiving audiences can be to actors. Indeed, there's an unfortunate adage in Hollywood: You're only as good as your last project. Someone may have been a superstar 20 years ago, but may be stuck in straight-to-video Hell these days. Señors Carr and Marnell also commented on the flash of fame that belonged to Shannon Elizabeth, once the superstar model of dozens of magazine covers, and now very far out of the public eye.

The thesis is this: We are fickle. This is, of course, not news. It's been commented by anyone who has seen a single episode of “TMZ” that audiences tend to spend just as much time badmouthing and tearing down their movie idols as they do lionizing them. Fame is a complex and slippery eel beast that almost seems to behave randomly at times. Audiences may be the ones to ultimately bestow fame on certain celebrities, but we don't actively choose the celebrities we want. It's a bizarre witches' brew of talent, luck, marketing, image control, and fashion that allows certain people to become “movie stars” and others to be relegated to the less lucrative and perhaps more honorable spot of hardworking actor.

Even as a teenager, I came to the conclusion that what was popular was mutually exclusive from that which was great. I loved unpopular movies and hated popular ones. And while certain great films do become popular, it’s more common that mediocre films do; I have commented in B-Movies Extended before that Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas was the highest-grossing film the year it came out. This is one of the things that drove me to criticism: I had to point out the good stuff that was being looked over. Certain great things remain hidden.

I would like to humbly propose the following to the reader, should they be inclined to listen. Support your local actor. I know we've commented how the idea of the “matinee idol” has withered, but I think your favorite actors should still be supported. If you liked Shannon Elizabeth in 1999, both as a beautiful woman and as an actress, seek out her other stuff. If you were once an Eddie Murphy fan, perhaps you can be the one to help him up by attending his films. True, you will have to sit through some awful ones in the process, but by studying their career of a working actor, you can get a good idea of their body of work. Their oeuvre, if you will.

Of course, studying an actor's body of work typically works better if the actor was active many decades ago; One can write a full-career retrospective of, say, Claude Raines because he has stopped acting. Murphy, on the other hand, still has a career ahead of him.

You might find that an actor has bothered to hone their craft, even as they're offered less and less visible roles. Jean-Claude Van Damme, you might find, actually has improved greatly as an actor since his 1990s ass-kicking action days.

Is this homework? Well, no. But it is a plea on the part of actors everywhere who get a bad rap. Me? I don't want to see Murphy's most recent films, but I would love to see him do well in a good film. And all actors should, I feel, often be given the benefit of the doubt. And even if they're not the powerhouse you once fell in love with (and I didn't want that to sound as condescending as it did, but there you are), look at them for what they are today. You may like what you see. Actors work hard. Let's let them work.



From the Desk of William Bibbiani:

I disagree with Witney on this one. The responsibility isn’t on the audiences to save the career of their favorite stars, particularly if they keep making schlock. I’m reminded of a scene from TV’s “Taxi,” in which Tony Danza was presented with a logic problem involving moldy apples in a vending machine: if he doesn’t buy the moldy apples they’ll never be replaced in the machine, but if he does buy the moldy apples, they’ll be replaced with more moldy apples since the company will think that’s what he likes. How do I get a fresh apple, he asks? The answer: “You don’t.”

If you bought a ticket for A Thousand Words, the industry would simply assume that’s the kind of movie you like, and give you more of the same. That’s how Eddie Murphy got into the blasé family genre to begin with: Dr. Dolittle made money, while Life and Bowfinger and Pluto Nash tanked. So, by necessity or possibly design, he ran with it, giving the world Daddy Day Care, The Haunted Mansion, Meet Dave and Imagine That. It’s a double-edged sword, obviously. On one hand, we got Daddy Day Care, The Haunted Mansion, Meet Dave and Imagine That. On the other, Murphy was able to remain in the limelight long enough to wrangle a couple of potential comeback projects that might have changed his career trajectory. Unfortunately, Dreamgirls and Tower Heist didn’t do the trick. Neither film was particularly good (eh… Dreamgirls was alright, I suppose), and so audiences didn’t shell out enough cash to make either “serious” Eddie Murphy or “edgy” Eddie Murphy seem viable to a studio again.

Which brings us to Twins 2, which must surely end up being called Triplets (right?). On paper, it’s a solid career move. A prominent sequel pairing Murphy with two other iconic stars, revisiting a former hit that worked as a family film but also had mainstream appeal. But it’s also just another retread of an already one-joke movie, and with that joke played out, Danny DeVito doesn’t look like Arnold Schwarzenegger (duh), it seems likely to turn into another, even lamer one-joke movie, with Eddie Murphy looking like neither Danny DeVito nor Arnold Schwarzenegger, what with his skin color and all. Unless the movie turns out brilliant – and is anyone, even the studio, counting on that? – this is not a comeback role. If it’s successful, it may give him the clout necessary to put together a real comeback role, but more likely it’ll shoehorn him into even more mainstream dreck.

So what’s an Eddie Murphy fan to do? If you loved him in Beverly Hills Cop, Trading Places and Coming to America, you probably shouldn’t do anything. Don’t see his movies, especially on opening weekend, until they represent the kind of Eddie Murphy movie you want to see. Parents, this goes for you too. I know it's hard finding family-friendly movies for your kids, but you don't have to see everything. You’re not just a consumer, and you’re not just a fan, you’re a voter, and you vote with your money. Don’t pay to see anyone, no matter how much you love them, if they’re making career choices you don’t like. That’s the only way to let them know that you want them to do something else. But you also have to pay good money when they make a career move you approve of, otherwise they’ll just disappear entirely. Tower Heist sucked, but at least it was a step in the right direction for Murphy’s career. Maybe you should have seen it, if only to prevent him from starring in a creepy new version of Mary Poppins or something.