Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Someone give Eddie Murphy a good sci-fi role!

This past Saturday I was coming home from a visit upstate to see some old friends. The return bus was crowded, as you might imagine, but I found an aisle seat next to a dude who had a laptop. He was watching a movie. Normally I cringe whenever I'm on a bus that shows movies because usually, there's never a headphone jack available, which means that you get to watch the movie whether you want to or not. (Greyhound has been guilty of this many times.) I've sat through some stinkers as a result. Here, at least, I didn't have to worry, because the guy had his headphones on. He also had Spanish subtitles on as well - not that my Spanish is all that great.

Anyway, the movie he was watching was Meet Dave, that Eddie Murphy flick where he's a tiny alien secretly infiltrating Earth in the disguise of a life-sized android. I did not need audio with this movie to see how crappy it was. The special effects were not quite that special; there was a subplot involving a human family, in particular a little kid, that looked quite cliched; one of the alien characters was a gay stereotype, something Murphy has a rep for trafficking in; and the movie in general did not look terribly inspired. I watched it for no other reason than it was a way to kill time, but I couldn't help but wonder what the dude next to me saw in it.

I was actually gonna write something about Murphy a few weeks ago before he announced his resignation as Oscar host in the wake of the Brett Ratner controversy, but I found that this piece represented my feelings about Murphy quite well and even made me reappraise him a bit. Love him or hate him, his impact on modern comedy films, not to mention his status as a pioneer for black actors in general, is monumental. (Seriously, read that article; it's long, but well worth it.) One thing it didn't go into in any detail, however, and something that I think is worth exploring, is his geeky side.

Murphy has made eleven live-action films that could safely be called either sci-fi, fantasy, or horror: The Golden Child, Vampire in Brooklyn, The Nutty Professor 1 and 2, Doctor Dolittle 1 and 2, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, The Haunted Mansion, Meet Dave, Imagine That, and the forthcoming A Thousand Words. Those first ten films have an average Rotten Tomatoes score of 29, with the highest (and only fresh-rated) one being The Nutty Professor's 66, which is just barely a passing grade. 

That Murphy has made crappy movies in recent years is not news. But Dave, if anything, reminded me of his jones for science fiction in general and one aspect of it in particular. In Dave, one of his roles is as the captain of a crew of aliens. They wear crisp, militaristic uniforms and operate out of a sleek, post-modern looking bridge on their "vessel" (the aforementioned life-sized android). Sound familiar?

It should! Murphy is a closet Trekkie. So much so, in fact, that he originally wanted to be in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (the whale one) and would have been had Paramount not gotten cold feet at the last minute. Given this, not to mention the fact that black people have a dubious history in sci-fi films and action films in general, I wanna see him in a good sci-fi film one day.

He deserves it, don't you think? If other geeks like Samuel L. Jackson and Simon Pegg can cash in on their fanboy status with good roles in good movies like Unbreakable and Paul, then why can't Murphy find better geek roles? Why has he settled for less - and more importantly, why has he not embraced his inner geek, as guys like Jackson and Pegg have clearly done, to their advantage? Movies like Meet Dave and The Haunted Mansion seem to come across as family films first, geek films second. I think Murphy could generate some genuine goodwill by, say, a Comic-Con appearance or an interview on Attack of the Show, and possibly expand his fanbase as a result.

He also needs to work with better directors. This is something I've been saying for years. I'd like to see him return to his Beverly Hills Cop/48 Hours roots with a director like Michael Mann or Brian DePalma, or even someone edgier, a Darren Aronofsky-type, perhaps. But if we're talking about making a good sci-fi/fantasy movie, then perhaps someone like Guillermo del Toro or Alfonso Cuaron or Duncan Jones might be the move instead.

It's not too late. Murphy has indicated that he wants to get away from the children's films. Tower Heist, while it was far from a critical hit, was a step in the direction of the Murphy of old, the one millions of people adored for many years, which is all well and good. I think finding a quality genre film, though, could be very satisfying for him personally.


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