In Memoriam: Eddie Murphy, Movie Star

You might have noticed a glaring omission in this morning's Weekend Receipts, but probably not: Even I couldn't be bothered to remember that an Eddie Murphy movie not only opened on Friday (to catastrophically bad reviews; the Rotten Tomatoes "fresh" rating remains at a super-rare 0%) but also concluded the weekend with a brutal $6.25 million gross &mdash making for a sixth-place finish and a $3,360-per-screen average. This would make A Thousand Words the third straight Murphy-led film to open under $7 million — quite the opposite from last fall's reasonably successful ensemble effort Tower Heist and his voice work in the blockbuster Shrek franchise. Factor in his Oscars-hosting debacle, and you kind of have to ask yourself: Is this it for Eddie?

Generally I'd try for a little more optimistic reading of the scenario; I mean, if we can devote time and space to attempting to rehabilitate Renee Zellweger's career, then Eddie Murphy is worth at least that much effort. But this is bad, if only because the confluence of Murphy's historic arrogance and decade-long decline in taste has produced the perfect storm of irrelevance: Older audiences who loved him in the '80s and could admire the creative risk he took in Dreamgirls have all but given up, and he doesn't move the needle among young audiences for whom Meet Dave, Imagine That and now A Thousand Words have proven sixth- or maybe fifth-choice moviegoing at best. There's nowhere to go, really, but back to second-billing behind guys like Ben Stiller and even — gasp — Mike Myers, the latter of whom isn't exactly tearing up the non-Shrek market himself.

But that won't happen. This is a guy who was going to ride the Academy Awards back to the cultural A-list, or at least let the wave elevate Tower Heist's profile last November and burnish the otherwise lackluster A Thousand Words in whatever post-Oscar afterglow he could get. Obviously, for reasons both known and unknown, that didn't transpire. There's a bottom line here, though, that gets to the larger problem with Eddie Murphy in 2012: If Murphy had wanted to preserve the job, then he could have. He would have. Instead, on the Monday after his latest cinematic miscarriage, we're talking about arguably the most complacent actor in Hollywood — a man perfectly happy to eat shit sandwiches and wipe his mouth with $100 bills as long as some retrograde studio boss is setting the table.

And I guess that's fine? It's not my money (nor yours, in all likelihood, unless you run DreamWorks, in which case you have bigger problems anyway). But its diminishing returns have transcended alarm into something more approximating schadenfreude: We wish less that Murphy would get back to the business of being trailblazingly funny or edgy or adventurous than that his next, now-routine clusterfuck will be the one that finally sends him into the sunset counting his money. Not that we necessarily want the worst for Murphy. He just seeks it out for himself, and the more it compromises his legacy — extraordinary films like 48 Hours, Delirious, Trading Places, Coming to America and others pushing a quarter-century old — the more it compromises us. Watching Beverly Hills Cop should not feel bittersweet.

So as much as I sincerely would love to be wrong, it looks like we've finally lost Eddie Murphy, movie star — a legend forsaken for Eddie Murphy, character actor, or worse yet, Eddie Murphy, king of paycheck inertia. And if we have indeed reached a point of no return, then let's have our laments here and now and be done with it. There's too much ambition worth experiencing and appreciating elsewhere.

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  • The Pope says:

    I reckon it is because no one else has even bothered to answer your question.

  • Regular follower says:

    It's a shame how one of the coolest guys on Earth from Raw and Delirious , became so lazy, so indifferent ... Great article , keep up the good work 🙂

    • Max Renn says:

      He seems to following the same career suicide path as Chevy Chase.

      • Mathias says:

        Really? Chevy Chase imo has made a rather triumphant return in TV's Community. Best role in Years, does not always have to be the movies....

  • Chris68 says:

    It took you until 2012 to realize that Murphy is irrelevant? You never heard of "The Golden Child," "Boomerang," "Pluto Nash," "Norbit"? Except for maybe the overrated "Nutty Professor" films, Murphy hasn't been an interesting presence for over 20 years. Can't wait for you to discover that Dan Akyroyd has fallen off the map too....

    • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

      Whatever. This isn't about art, it's about box-office -- which has evaporated since Norbit opened to $34m five years ago on the way to almost $100m domestic. (And $160m global.) As noted, he still matters in ensembles, animated and/or live-action. But the movie-star draw is done.