What's the Upside of Eddie Murphy Hosting the Oscars?

eddie_murphy_getty300.jpgRumors abound today that Eddie Murphy may dig out of his extended rut with an Oscar-hosting stint next February. The Web site that broke the story says it's a done deal, while our sister site Deadline reports that co-producer Brett Ratner has a few hurdles to clear at the Academy (quite possibly including his producing colleague Don Mischer). Among them: Convincingly answering the question, "What on Earth is the upside of Eddie Murphy hosting the Oscars?"

Aside from the publicity bump for Tower Heist -- the Ratner/Murphy/Ben Stiller collaboration opening in November -- and the legitimizing milestone the job would represent for the 50-year-old comic/actor's flagging career, I can't really see how this would make sense. Let's think about the players:

· Brett Ratner: Wants to make his mark on the event as soon and as indelibly as possible. Eager to make the Oscars funnier, but needs to keep it safe and traditional after this year's debacle. Wants to be the guy known as bringing Eddie Murphy back from his devastating tandem of live-action flops (Meet Dave, Imagine That) with a hit movie and the return to the stage he left decades ago, but will probably just look like the guy exploiting the Oscars for Tower Heist hype and to reinvigorate his long quest to make Beverly Hills Cop 4 with Murphy. Can always point to Murphy's Best Supporting Actor nomination in 2007 (for Dreamgirls) as proof of his Academy approval. Can cite positive working relationship with Murphy -- something not all that many of Murphy's more recent directors can claim -- as insurance against the surly star going off the rails in the intense lead-up to Oscar night.

· Eddie Murphy: A middle-aged comedy genius who's abdicated his legend for a baser, broader paycheck canon including The Nutty Professor and Dr. Dolittle films, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Showtime, I Spy and the infamous Norbit -- but who now has Tower Heist and next January's A Thousand Words to sell. Reportedly wants to return to live performing and stand-up, though confessed last year to believing that his "cool and edge are gone." Oscars would be arguably the biggest stage possible to mount that comeback -- but the last thing the Academy needs or wants after its Franco/Hathaway experiment is to provide Eddie Murphy's testing ground. Also left the bitter taste of walking out of the 2007 Oscars ceremony after losing to Alan Arkin. If he gave off the impression that he was above it all then, what could possibly have changed in five years? How hard is he willing to work with Ratner, and how will he respond when things go wrong onstage or behind the scenes during the Oscarcast, which they invariably do?

· WME: Murphy's agents are fanning the flames of this rumor as far as they'll burn. Need to move their star to next, mature phase of career while restoring his comic luster among the 25-40 demographic so critical to the Academy and ABC. Could use a coup to wave in front of CAA, which reps Ratner and wants to get its other client Billy Crystal in the hosting slot. (Ratner has apparently pledged Crystal's involvement in some other manner to be determined.) Probably the likeliest winner in this whole schema: If Murphy gets the job and flourishes, he's a hero. (And the chances of that Beverly Hills Cop 4 payday just skyrocketed.) If he bombs, he still hosted the Oscars and can just go off and make Nutty Professor 3.

· Tom Sherak: AMPAS president is the face of the Academy, and needs just one year to go by without getting slapped by storm of Oscarcast second-guessers. Needs least controversial, least risky big name with the least baggage to grace the Oscar stage. Would have to explain to every smug and/or blue-haired Academy voter why the guy who starred in Norbit is hosting the Oscars, plus defend what looks like Ratner and Murphy leveraging Hollywood's biggest night for their own films' benefit. (Especially so early; Oscar host announcements usually arrive in late November/early December.) Would be forced to rally around Tower Heist and A Thousand Words regardless of their quality or box-office potential, lest they bomb and he's stuck with an impotent leading man as host come February. Would be better off with Ben Stiller than Eddie Murphy. Can't afford right now to be stuck in the corner where this gamble places him.

· Don Mischer: Oscar co-producer also bouncing back from this year's nightmare. Brilliant television veteran who no doubt wants another veteran to stabilize the hosting platform; Murphy hasn't done TV in almost a quarter-century. May not have veto power, but has assembled his own list of possible hosts, and has considerably more experience and influence than Ratner when it comes to institutional dealings, negotiations and politics. Dissent could build tension in the ranks, and it's only Sept. 5.

· Billy Crystal: Erstwhile Oscar host who is itching to give it another go after last year's well-received cameo. Safe, inoffensive choice who is exactly what everyone who follows the Oscars knows it needs. If he's going to be involved anyway, why not just give him the host slot and sell next year as the throwback Oscars rather than the comeback Oscars?

· You: Love a good comeback story and would like to see Eddie Murphy reclaim his edgy mojo, but saw what happened to Chris Rock in 2005 and know instinctively that Murphy's compatibility with this particular job is likely less than optimal. Still haven't forgiven Murphy for Norbit. Have high hopes for Tower Heist but are still confused as to how Ratner landed an Oscar-producing gig. Don't understand why Academy won't just appoint Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin as hosts-for-life and be done with it.

So basically: Why Eddie Murphy? Seriously, I'm asking.

[Photo: Getty Images]


  • Brad says:

    What is the upside of Eddie Murphy hosting the Oscars? Three reasons: 1) Name familiarity, almost everyone knows who he is, 2) He is funny, 3) He knows how to work a crowd, something missing for awhile in Oscar hosts.

  • Huffy says:

    If the Academy was serious about getting great ratings they would have rung Ricky Gervais' agent the second the Golden Globes went off the air. Whether Hollywood likes it or not there is nothing America wants to see more than a bunch of rich actors being mocked for a couple of hours at the most pompous event in entertainment, and everyone knows that Gervais would deliver just that.
    But of course the Oscars really aren't about ratings to most of the Academy, they're about self-congratulation. They want a host who is going to play by their rules and not do what Chris Rock did. In that sense I'm not sure that the Academy's stodgier members would want to go with Murphy given the nature of his stand-up. Even if Murphy agrees to tone down his act I don't know how relevant he is with the under-25 set, the exact age group that Ratner was brought in to attract.

  • Wellie says:

    Are Eddie Murphy's paycheck clunkers Norbit, I Spy, Showtime, Meet Dave & Pluto Nash really more criminal turkeys than another string of crap most actors who have been at it in Hollywood a long time make?
    For example Robert DeNiro (in addition to being in Showtime w/ Murphy) has made some steaming clunkers of his own: the last 2 "Meet The..." movies, Analyze That, 15 Minutes, Righteous Kill, Everybodys Fine, etc. But he isn't normally thought of as a guy who's made a string of garbage over the last decade b/c we remember his great films/performances fondly. (Admittedly, he's not in the running to host the Oscars, but you get my point.)
    To posit that any mention of Murphy automatically conjures up the idea of Norbit and not his great performances in Bowfinger, Dreamgirls, Coming To America, Raw, Delirious, Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, and SNL just seems to be selling the guy short. I agree he's made a long list of bad movies, but I've always thought those choices stem from laziness & greed not a lack of talent. (AKA "Bruce Willis Syndrome".) I think Murphy is still capable of bringing it.

  • jadez says:

    if you want an old queen to host the show why not get someone with talent??

  • Allan says:

    Why Eddie Murphy? Because he a comedic genius you twit. Are you old enough to remember Raw? Also, a writer for this site has real nerves second guessing any Oscar host after it spent the two months lead unto last years Oscar groveling over Franco and Hatthaway when even disinterested non-movie fans knew that would be a train wreck. If the editors of Movieline could pick the Oscar host they would pick the cast of Glee as a final tribute to Chris Rosen.

  • topsyturvy says:

    So, they've abandoned the idea of appealing to a younger demographic ... ? Does anyone in the coveted 18-34 age group know who he is?

  • Rosa says:

    I don't remember this type of rant about Alec Baldwin about his slugging a paparazzi, or the ranting he did at his daughter and ex-wife Kim Basinger, his drinking, and other acts of vandalism, riot acts, vulgarity and a few other UGLY things! He and Steve weren't funny to me and I loved George Clooney for his "eye" contact. Chris Rock isn't funny to me but that's a personal thing but unlike Rock, Lawerenc and a few others Eddie Murphy has a whole lot of "CHARM" and a beautiful smile, great timing and he's cute. Plus, when he produces a movie the makeup, hair, costumes, and sets as well as performances are perfection. Could say more but time won't permit.

  • sosgemini says:

    You mean, the demographic that grew up on Shrek? :eyeroll:

  • sosgemini says:

    Why was Chris Rock even brought into this discussion? Is he a peer of Eddie Murphy's? Or is it because they are both black men? Was Bob Hope in his prime when he hosted? Was Johnny Carson cutting edge and hip when he hosted? Shoot, was Billy Crystal even relevant the last time he hosted? Is he relevant now?
    Murphy is the perfect host, IMHO. Why? Because he can work a stage and actually has screen and stage presence and for the love of Judy Garland, he actually used to be (could be again one day) a movie star. When Eddie is on stage he owns it.
    Shoot, I say all this and I'm not even a Murphy fan. It just makes sense though and to see all the naysayers discounting the idea is kind of odd to me.

  • Furious D says:

    Two upsides to Eddie Murphy hosting the Oscars...
    1. The members of his legendarily large entourage can work as seat fillers during the show.
    2. Having him as the host will make people think fondly of the early 1990s which was the last time Murphy and the Oscars were remotely relevant.

  • Chris Rock was brought into the discussion because before the Oscars he was known as a brilliant cutting-edge comic to whom nothing -- least of all Hollywood -- was sacred when he was on stage. His perspectives on race and ethnicity (yes, _obviously_ as a black man), his blunt-force honesty and saying what the crowd or the viewer at home was thinking but couldn't say was part of his mission. One jab at Jude Law helped end all that. Next thing you know he's remaking Eric Rohmer films and co-starring in Grown-Ups. His film-career trajectory hardly matches that of Murphy, but seeing what the Oscars imposed on Rock -- both in the moment and in long shadow afterward -- makes me wary of seeing Murphy come back on _this_ stage.
    In any case, suggesting Hope, Carson and Crystal's lack of relevance is a pretty drastic misread of the situation; Hope was Hollywood royalty who was virtually synonymous with the Oscars for decades, Carson was one of the dominant tastemakers of his generation, and Crystal was at least _in_ an Oscar-winning film in the stretch during which he hosted. And they all have/had regular stage experience in common. Murphy, who is admittedly an Oscar-caliber performer and absolutely an A-list talent, hasn't performed in something like 20 years. _Delirious_ and _Raw_ hold up, but come on. This is the _Oscars_. It's proven time and again that its principal function is to burnish a town's egos and epidemic self-satisfaction. It needs a host who can color within those lines. Even if Murphy could, why would you -- the Murphy fan so eager to see him reclaim his presence and influence -- want him to?
    Also, let's be honest: As noted above, Brett Ratner's endgame is restoring Murphy in the service of _Tower Heist_ and (eventually) _Beverly Hills Cop 4_. Period. There's not even any reason to be naming Oscar hosts until November. Sorry if I sound cynical, but that shit just happens to be in the air.

  • Tommy Marx says:

    If they want to go high end, they should get Oprah Winfrey to host. Not only would she bring much needed luster, but she could use the publicity to help her network.

  • topsyturvy says:

    It's interesting that of the entire Murphy oeuvre mentioned in the article, not one reference to SHREK. I still don't think a 50-year-old Murphy will get the younger kids to watch the Oscars.

  • The citation of his live-action flops higher up was intended as an implied reference to the hit _Shrek_ franchise, but you're right in any event: Murphy has little to no brand value among the next generation of Oscarcast viewers coveted by the Academy/ABC.

  • Patrick McEvoy-Halston says:

    Right now, Chris Rock does near-organically fit as an alternative to Murphy, even if in personality there are much better links. You are right to get us to question why this is so (and thank you), but we're probably right to readily understand him as someone who communicates -- what we all might be looking for and need this time around -- appeasement, matters temporarily settled, owing to being in the presence of someone it's easy to make, if we're so inclined, and we will be, the like you'll get hard, punitive pushback if you too readily criticize (after "The Help," not even a descendent of slaves can keep you from spamming the hard-wrought effort? THIS TIME, it's on you.).
    And so with the selection of an esteemed black comedian, we know things won't get so far out of hand that we can't deny that an institution we for-sure still need is crumbly. The PARTICULAR one we choose can vary between two or three. But it may HAVE to be a black man to quiet the storm.

  • Hollyfeld says:

    Could be interesting.
    Eddie could use some positive press with regard to his career, and if his Oscar hosting duties are a homerun it would go a long ways towards improving how he is perceived by the public. Curious to see what Tower Heist will do in that regard. I think he's got a longways to go to erase the stench of the last 15 years in his career.
    He hasn't done anything relevant (*in a starring role) since Bowfinger and that was over ten years ago.

  • Strawberry Pain says:

    I'm a hopeless romantic and fan. I do think this could be good for Eddie and the Oscars. It's a risky move for him, but good for him for (possibly) taking a risk now. He *is* talented and of A-List ability. He used to know how to connect with audiences, live. I'd love it if he could do it again. Fingers crossed. In the meantime, I'm going to dream about the members' only club scene from Beverly Hills Cop. Yes. I think that would be best.

  • Mike says:

    This read more like another Murphy hit piece. Why don't we wait to see if a) he gets the gig and b)if he does a good or bad job before we start trying be clever and bury a guy before he has a chance. the hate for Murphy out there in the film blog world is incredible. What he ever do apart from make a few clunkers.

  • Jim Calvert says:

    Why in the world would they want Eddie Murphy to host anything? He is a no talent token. That loud sucking and popping noise is Murphy's lips being torn from the Hollywood lefist elite. With Murphy, the only thing I would ever laugh at is if he stuck his head up his butt and tried to pull it out. He is more like a performer at children's parties. Why arn't the funny, talented and creative people like Martin Short invited to host? The only person worse than Murphy would be Tim Allen.