Eddie Murphy’s publicist would like you to believe the actor is back and better than ever. Starring in the Brett Ratner (of Rush Hour fame) helmed Tower Heist, in theaters today, set to host the 2012 Academy Awards, and even (gasp) doing an interview with Rolling Stone, it would appear that Murphy is preparing for a box office comeback.
And the box office is, for all intents and purposes, primed for his return. The market is wide open to a crossover black comedic actor, and with Tower Heist’s all-star cast (Ben Stiller, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick just to name a few) it is a great opportunity for Eddie Murphy to return to the style of comedy that once made him the most popular comic actor in America.
Except for one thing: he’s playing the worst stereotype of a thug robber, a gross caricature of an already overdone cliche.
WATCH THE TRAILER FOR ‘TOWER HEIST’ HERE:
Let Brett Ratner tell it, Tower Heist is the realization of a childhood dream.
“To be honest, I really had to pinch myself,” Ratner told Xfinity TV. “You have no idea. Rush Hour was born out of the fact that I grew up studying Eddie Murphy and his movies.”
Hence why Murphy’s performance leans so heavily on the wiseass characters from Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hrs. that made him famous early in his career. Nostalgia for the old Eddie Murphy would make this character appear to be a welcome return, especially given Murphy’s sabbatical in the family film and box office bust genre, but almost 30 years later, it doesn’t work — at all.
In Tower Heist Murphy plays Slide, a neighborhood loud mouth and petty criminal recruited to aid a motley crew of hotel workers trying to rob the banker who defrauded them. Even if you can overlook the fact that “black guy as criminal” is oh so tired, Murphy’s character in Tower Heist feels forced, as if the desire to see Murphy act out this 48 Hrs. re-do overshadowed any effort to build story and life around the character.
At least in the Shrek franchise filmmakers were creative enough to give life to Murphy’s Donkey character by having a wiseass embodied in a literal wise ass.
Instead Slide comes off as a “jive talking turkey,” sort of his Shrek donkey character minus the built in animal humor and adding gratuitous cussing to prove his toughness, naturally.
But, to be fair to Murphy, the entire movie leans heavily on cultural stereotypes for humor, taking shots at Puerto Ricans, lesbians, the elderly, and not to mention Gabourey Sidibe as a sassy maid with a horrible Jamaican accent. I kid you not, there’s a scene where she launches an attack while yelling “bumbaclot.”
It’s unfortunate because here are two Oscar nominated black actors, Sidibe and Murphy, and yet they’re playing these really stereotypical one-dimensional characters: a criminal and a maid. It’s lazy, and it undermines their talent to cast them into the same old roles in which black people are routinely cast, assuming they’ll rise above the material. Perhaps white audiences are more comfortable with black actors in these run-of-the-mill roles, but it’s in poor taste.
WATCH GABOUREY SIDIBE TALK ABOUT HER ROLE IN ‘TOWER HEIST’
Eddie Murphy’s character in Tower Heist is a stereotype of a stereotype, complete with doo-rags, gold chains and womanizing ways. He definitely isn’t memorable enough of a character to constitute a career “comeback”.
In fact, he might just signal how career lost Murphy is — he’s not in his 20s anymore, and though he claims to be done with the family film genre, who knows where he fits in today’s film market. Tower Heist certainly won’t pay off in the long run.