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Eddie Murphy is maturing as an actor. In the 80's and early 90's it was Eddie as a cop or Eddie as a crook. Eddie as streetwise and slick. In the last five years, his range of roles has widened to include nerds in The Nutty Professor and Bowfinger, to men of learning in Dr. Doolittle and The Nutty Professor, to gurus in Holy Man. Now more than ever, it's time to ask: can we ever have too much Murphy?
Bowfinger is as much Steve Martin's movie as Eddie Murphy's. As such, it's an attempt for both of these aging comedians to grab an energetic boost from each other. Martin seems to be back to his old tricks as a gag comedian. I say "seems" because he also has that slowed-down, not-as-funny pace of the aging actor he so gracefully became. Martin has at least three very funny moments as struggling indie-film maker, Bowfinger. It's a fascinating twist that the casting agent managed to look beyond the fact that 99% of struggling indie-film makers are in their late 20's or early 30's and either make it big or give it up by 40. Why not cast Martin as a struggling film-maker? The audience stretches its mental muscles trying to picture the man spending 2-1/2 decades living hand to mouth (and somehow buying a house) as a never-was.
Murphy is in the dual roles of crazy and famous black action star and nerdy, bumbling delivery-boy. Playing opposite himself gives both roles an extra boost into their respective extremities and makes them both quite funny. As the freaking-out action star, Murphy resembles himself, and it gave me a strange sense of satisfaction to see him getting a certain degree of comeuppance for his reiterated action roles in the Beverly Hills Cop series and the 48 Hours duo. As the geeky delivery-boy, Murphy finds a new character who, by being pathetic, creates a sympathetic pathos around himself. This boy doesn't want to be a star, but because he looks like the action star, he's thrust into the movie against his well.
The script is a serviceable vehicle for Murphy's clowning. Steve Martin is incredibly noble in letting Murphy run away with most scenes. And if it's not Murphy, then it's Heather Graham stealing the scenes from the humbly great Mr. Martin with her perky bod in the role of unexpected sexpot.
Pure Hollywood folderol! (I mean that in the best way possible.)
Holy Man offers up more Murphy comedy, but in a subtler way. Here the story-line must remain front and center while Murphy plays foil to Jeff Goldblum, the failing producer of a home-shopping channel. Murphy plays G, a pilgrim and seeker after truth who treads along the shoulders of Miami highways on his way to enlightenment. If that's not enough of a stretch for your "willful suspension of disbelief," imagine that after a few plot twists, G becomes not only the best seller on the network, but a nationwide sensation to people of all ages, from the married couples to the college frat guys who all watch the Good Buy Network!
Once you've bought that, it's easy to see how Kelly Preston could go from disgust to love after a single date with Goldblum. And how she could go back to disgust again so quickly. And then back to love again. You wouldn't call it a wide range of acting skill, but it's about as speedy as any actor outside pro-wrestling! Too bad the movie ends so soon--the see-saw feeling was enjoyable in its own way.
To anyone with a spiritual bent, this movie may prove iconoclastic to your firmly held belief that the human soul has depth and value. All I can say is, once Hollywood takes on the enlightened soul, look out laughing Buddha! They sure put the "dent" in "transcendentalism."
As a side note, the folks at Family Fun Video were playing an
early Murphy movie that brought back memories of Eddie as a bright young
comic whose every new release I was anxious to see on the big screen. Call
me old-fashioned but I still say his comedic high-water mark is Trading
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.