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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Eddie Murphy

‘Tower Heist’: Is Eddie Murphy’s tank finally on empty?

November 7, 2011 |  2:00 pm


Eddie Murphy is emphatic that he doesn’t want to do any more family comedies. But after the underwhelming $25-million opening of 'Tower Heist" this weekend, it’s clearer than ever that we don't want to see him do anything else.

Since the calendar turned to 2000, the man who for years ruled the box office has generated seven live-action flops and four hits. That wouldn’t be a terrible ratio if there was any variety to the list. But there isn’t:  All four hits were broad family comedies: “Norbit,” “Daddy Day Care,” Dr. Dolittle 2” and “The Nutty Professor 2.”

 Most of the flops, on the other hand, were a bit more adult-themed and generally came with a genre spin: “The Adventures of Pluto Nash,” “I Spy,” “Meet Dave,” "Showtime," "The Haunted Mansion," “Imagine That” and now "Tower Heist."  (We'll exclude “Dreamgirls,” a musical hit costarring Murphy that was sold mainly on non-Murphy elements.)

But we already knew all of that. What “Tower Heist” (which underperformed, though it should be noted did not bomb) really showed is not that we can add one more disappointment to Murphy’s millennial résumé. It's that what could have been a rich avenue for a Murphy comeback is, apparently, closed.

Duds such as “Dave” and “Pluto Nash” showed that slotting Murphy into a fanboy genre like science fiction doesn't work. But “Heist,” in which the 50-year-old plays a small-time criminal who helps a band of misfits reclaim their money,  was supposed to be different. It was, finally, Eddie as we loved him in the '80s, showcasing him as both the rogue justice-seeker of the “Beverly Hills Cop” movies and as half of an interracial odd-couple of mega-hits like “Trading Places” and “48 Hours.”

There are plenty of theories about what's made Murphy go downhill: Is it the material?  The passage of time? The sum total of his choices? That last one didn't help — it’s a little tough to continue buying him as a chameleon-like comedian after he's run one too many day-care centers or spent too much time on screen talking to, well, chameleons.

There is one last ray of hope. In February, the actor will of course host the Oscars. Monday morning hand-wringers will wonder how that will play coming off a disappointment. But the Academy Awards offer a chance for Murphy to turn things around, because they allow us to see him the other way we loved him in the 1980s: on a stage. If Murphy crushes it, there's still hope for a revival. It’s decidedly a long shot, but then, so was a leather-clad comedian with a hyena laugh becoming a megastar in the first place.


"Puss in Boots" claws past "Tower Heist"

Would you pay $60 to watch Eddie Murphy at home?

You want some ice cream: Eddie Murphy's comeback bid

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Eddie Murphy in "Beverly Hills Cop." Credit: Paramount Pictures

Word of Mouth: Eddie Murphy's 'Heist' gets a rewrite [Video]

November 3, 2011 |  5:33 pm

Eddie Murphy’s original idea for what would become “Tower Heist” -- an all-black “Ocean’s Eleven” -- changed a lot on the way to theaters this weekend. While the basic parameters of the story remained intact, the cast and the villain changed materially from when Murphy first came up with the idea six years ago. In this week’s Word of Mouth column, staff writer John Horn looks at the film’s development, and what’s at stake not only for Murphy but also the film’s director, Brett Ratner.


A long-planned 'Heist'

Movie review: 'Tower Heist'

Movie Projector: 'Tower Heist' to swipe No. 1 spot from rivals

Photo: Ben Stiller, left, Matthew Broderick, Michael Pena, Casey Affleck and Eddie Murphy in "Tower Heist." Credit: David Lee / Universal Pictures

Photo: Ben Stiller, left, Matthew Broderick, Michael Pena, Casey Affleck and Eddie Murphy in "Tower Heist." Credit: David Lee / Universal Pictures

You want some ice cream: Eddie Murphy's comeback bid

October 26, 2011 |  7:11 pm

Eddie Murphy began what could be an epic return to glory--or maybe just an ephemeral return to the spotlight--with an appearance on "The Tonight Show with David Letterman" Tuesday night.

We'll see more of the actor in the coming months than we've seen in a decade. For the next few weeks he'll of course be promoting 'Tower Heist," in which he plays a small-time con man on the right side of justice. Then he'll be seen--in theaters--in the Brett Ratner extravaganza itself. That will be followed by the promotion for the Oscars, and the ceremony, early in 2012.

If all goes according to plan, we'll get yet another dose of the earring-and-mustache shortly after. Paramount anticipates a late-March release of "A Thousand Words," Murphy's comedy about a man who only has that number of words allotted for speech (also, incidentally, the number of words Eddie Murphy has spoken to the print media in the past decade) before he drops dead. It seems like the kind of high-concept movie a comic actor might have agreed to do in 2006, which stands to reason, as the film was shot back in 2007.

It remains to be seen whether "Tower Heist" has enough of the rubber-faced impersonations and silver-tongued charm that can restore Murphy to the level of popularity of the "Raw"-"48 Hours"-"Beverly Hills Cop" days, or even the "Norbit"-"Nutty Professor"-“Dr. Dolittle" days.

On Tuesday, at least, he played the charm game well, sticking the Oscars with a little jab (see video below; he said he wouldn't do any singing and dancing, though he notably neglected to say he wouldn't do any physical gags), and seeming generally easygoing.

Murphy still has the talent and charisma he did years ago, and in this era of '80s remakes and nostalgia-based goodwill, he seems like the kind of performer who can have a comeback if he wants to. But he doesn't seem to want to--he has only years-old development projects kicking around and doesn't seem in any rush to work. Which is the frustrating part, and somehow only makes a comeback seem more desirable.


Five improbably important questions raised by Tower Heist

Tower Heist, a clue to this year's Oscars?

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Eddie Murphy at the "Tower Heist" premiere. Credit: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Five improbably important questions posed by 'Tower Heist'

October 21, 2011 |  2:30 pm

Two weeks from today, Brett Ratner comes out with his Eddie Murphy-Ben Stiller comedy "Tower Heist." While the arrival of a new Ratner objet d'art doesn't usually raise significant questions--the geopolitical overtones of "Rush Hour 3" notwithstanding--his new movie has implications far beyond its action set pieces and quipped one-liners.

How the Universal release--about a group of workers at a luxury Manhattan apartment building trying to steal back their money from a Bernie Madoff-like tycoon--performs commercially will have a surprising amount to say about celebrity, the movie industry and, gulp, even Occupy Wall Street populism.

Here are five questions you never thought a Brett Ratner movie would answer.

Murphy's Law. Eddie Murphy hasn't had a live-action hit in years. His last few vehicles, "Meet Dave" and "Imagine That," couldn't come close to shooting the banana out the tailpipe. But this movie could present Murphy how we like and remember him from his heyday: cracking jokes, pulling his slick impersonations, flashing the pearly whites. In fact, by all trailer appearances, his character, a small-time criminal who's recruited into Stiller's justice-minded gang, gets him back to his "Beverly Hills Cop" roots. He's an outlaw on the side of right, his means justified by his ends and his quips. If it's a hit, get ready for the comeback stories. If it isn't, the odes will turn to obituaries.

Oscar the Grouchy.The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences set off plenty of grousing this summer when it made the stunning announcements that Ratner would produce the Oscars and that the mostly off-the-radar Murphy would host them. If "Tower Heist" flops, there will be awkward jokes and questions from now until late February. If it succeeds, the academy could look smart, demonstrating that Ratner and Murphy can resonate with the broader public--the same public the show needs to goose its ratings.

VOD premiums. Universal was forced into an embarrassing about-face when theater owners objected to its plan to put out the movie via on-demand just three weeks after its theatrical release. But the game may not be over yet. Sure, if the movie flourishes, theater owners could claim they're still the best way to bring out a new release. But if it doesn't, it could provide ammunition for studios to try something else the next time out

Occupy Multiplexes. "Heist" is one of the first mainstream entertainments since the financial crisis of 2008 to take on the subject of Wall Street and fat cats (never mind the millions raked in
by those making the film). How broad is sympathy for the OWS movement? Yeah, it's a big commercial comedy. But if the movie resonates, it could show that the sympathy is broader than some claim.

Static comedy. "30 Minutes or Less," "Cop Out," "Killers"-- a good era for the action-comedy this ain't. Enter Ratner, who, love him or hate him, has one of the most lucrative action comedy franchises in
history with "Rush Hour." With this film, he looks to save the genre, one high jinks-filled, odd-couple argument at a time.


Universal on 'Tower Heist': Never mind

Exhibitors clash with movie studios: Is this a war nobody can win?

'Tower Heist': A clue to this year's Oscars

--Steven Zeitchik


 Photo: "Tower Heist." Credit: Universal Pictures

Universal's 'Tower Heist' VOD fiasco: What went wrong?

October 12, 2011 |  5:38 pm

Tower heist
Universal Pictures has ended up with egg on its face after the embarrassing collapse of its experiment to make the upcoming Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy comedy "Tower Heist" available on VOD three weeks after its Nov. 4 theatrical release. The plan was to test market the Brett Ratner-directed film in two cities to see how many people would pay $60 to watch the movie at home in the comfort of their living room.

The plan backfired. A host of exhibitors, including Cinemark and National Amusements, announced that they wouldn't play the film at all, arguing that the experiment would surely somehow cut into their ticket sales. Of course, the VOD plan was limited to two mid-market cities (Portland, Ore., and Atlanta), but by using the nuclear option, exhibitors wanted to make it very clear to Universal's competitors that they would suffer equally dire consequences for any similar experiment.   

I will have more to say about this in a forthcoming column, but here's a few things to chew on that have made industry insiders question whether Universal botched the experiment from the start.


First off, "Tower Heist" was probably the wrong movie to pick in an experiment where cooperation of exhibitors was needed. Even though it has two name-brand stars in leading roles, it arrives in a month -- November -- that is already loaded with commercial films. In fact, there is already another comedy, "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas" on the same date, with another big comedy arriving a week later in the form of Adam Sandler's "Jack and Jill."

So if you're a theater owner, you would hardly be in danger of missing your numbers by refusing to play  "Tower Heist." That gave a lot of leverage to exhibitors willing to punish Universal. Even worse, from a leverage point of view, Universal is currently the weak sister of the Big Six studios. It has no major releases on its calendar for Thanksgiving or Christmas, and for that matter, no big event movie hitting theaters before "Battleship" next May. So if exhibitors wanted to punish a studio, Universal is the easiest one to pick a fight with.

But here's the real issue that created trouble for Universal. The studio's new corporate bosses at Comcast were clearly driving this experiment because if VOD works, it will be a great way to take advantage of Comcast's huge cable TV assets, giving them even more quality programming to offer their customers. That may help Comcast's bottom line, but it creates all sorts of headaches for Universal with its talent relations. After all, it was the top executives at Universal, not Comcast, who had to field angry phone calls from exhibitors. And it was Universal that was under siege by talent reps for Stiller, Murphy and Ratner, all hysterical about seeing their new movie being used as a guinea pig in an experiment that could lead to substantially reduced box-office grosses.

It just goes to show: In the new vertically integrated entertainment universe, what works for one end of the business doesn't necessarily work for the other. You'd think that Universal would have figured out what a potential mess this could be early on. But it clearly went ahead anyway. What's the lesson here? Theater owners may be dinosaurs when it comes to embracing new technology, but here's the thing about dinosaurs -- when they stamp their feet, it can really knock you for a loop.


Universal on 'Tower Heist': Never Mind

Would you pay $60 to watch an Eddie Murphy movie from home?

Sony's 3-D glasses showdown with exhibitors: Who will blink first?

-- Patrick Goldstein

Photo: Ben Stiller, left, and Eddie Murphy in "Tower Heist." Credit: David Lee / Universal Pictures 

Universal on 'Tower Heist': Never mind

October 12, 2011 | 12:15 pm


If you were were wondering whether to fork out $60 to see Eddie Murphy from the comfort of your home, you can stop tossing and turning.

Universal has released a statement that it won't make the Murphy and Ben Stiller comedy "Tower Heist" available three weeks after its theatrical release in select markets after all.

"In response to a request from theater owners, [we have] decided to delay [the movie's] planned premium home video on demand experiment," the studio said in a statement. The trial balloon has basically been punctured: when you delay an experiment that's all about moving things up, you've essentially canceled it.

The news comes after Cinemark, National Amusements and other theater owners said they wouldn't play the Brett Ratner-directed movie at all if Universal moved ahead with a plan to make it available on Comcast systems in Portland and Atlanta. (The theater owners, of course, were concerned that releasing the movie so soon, rather than waiting the usual three months, would cut into ticket sales.)

In other words: Universal and the theater owners got into a staring contest, and the studio blinked.

The company tried to leave the door open down the line -- "Universal continues to believe that the theater experience and a PVOD window are business models that can coincide and thrive and we look forward to working with our partners in exhibition to find a way to experiment in this area in the future."

But after the backtrack, it's reasonable to ask how soon they or any studio would try it again, and raises a question about the fate of the PVOD movement, which until now had been gaining momentum.

Then again, the studios could come out with some added leverage: If the movie doesn't do well now, it could fall on theaters to explain why they pushed so hard against a new revenue stream.


National Amusements won't play 'Tower Heist'

Universal's 'Tower Heist' move: A crafty gambit

Would you pay $60 to watch Eddie Murphy from home?

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "Tower Heist." Credit: Universal Pictures

Would you pay $60 to watch Eddie Murphy from home? [Poll]

October 5, 2011 |  4:14 pm


My colleague Ben Fritz has just posted this bombshell: Comcast-owned Universal has decided to make this fall's Eddie Murphy-Ben Stiller comedy "Tower Heist" available via on-demand three weeks after it's released on Nov. 4.  You'll have to pay $59.99, and you'll have to live in Atlanta or Portland, Ore., where the program is being piloted, but if you do (and have Comcast), you'll be able to see the movie without leaving your home.

The move represents a major step in the increasingly dynamic, and complicated, relationship between theatrical and television viewing. As Fritz writes, the experiment "marks the first time a major studio movie will be available to watch in-home while still playing in thousands of theaters."

Universal's choice of film seems carefully calculated. This isn't so small a movie that no one will pay for it. But a Brett Ratner comedy is not such a major filmgoing event that it will rankle theater owners in the way that, say, an "Avatar" or "Harry Potter" might. (The fact that it will be available on the fourth  weekend, after harder-core fans will no doubt already have bought tickets to see it, might also ease the sting, though theater owners could very well yet respond by pulling the film from theaters in those cities.)

All of this means that the results of the theaters-versus-television experiment won't be as conclusive as if this were, say, a guaranteed blockbuster that hit television the same weekend. And 60 bucks ain't cheap. Sure, pay-per-view wrestling gets away with it, but that's a live event you can't see anywhere else.

Still, the effect is to lower the limbo bar. A few months ago, studios tried a program with DirecTV that allowed television viewers to see movies like "Sucker Punch" 60 days after they came out (for $30). Now we're at three weeks. The next time, a studio may try two weeks, or sooner. The big question is whether people will pony up for it. Would you?



Tower Heist to hit video on-demand three weeks after theatrical release

Tower Heist: A clue to this year's Oscars?

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "Tower Heist." Credit: Universal Pictures.

Oscars: Steve Martin offers Eddie Murphy some tips on hosting

September 20, 2011 |  7:11 pm

Steve martin
Now that Eddie Murphy has been selected as Oscar host, he's no doubt receiving lots of advice on how to handle the gig. On Tuesday, he got some humorous pointers from his "Bowfinger" costar Steve Martin (himself a repeat host of the awards show, in 2001, 2003 and 2010).

Among suggestions Martin offered on his blog?  "If you feel tired midway through, give Neil Patrick Harris a Red Bull and throw some sheet music at him." And, "Start slimming down now. You looked kind of paunchy in NORBIT."

Murphy is handling the show solo, but lest he have any thoughts about bringing on a co-host, Martin cautioned him against it.

"Whatever you do, don't have a co-host," he counseled, referring to 2010 co-host Alec Baldwin, who is slated to break Martin's 15-time "Saturday Night Live" hosting mark when he emcees the season opener this week.  "They're a big pain, and they just end up breaking your SNL hosting record."


Eddie Murphy: From mean to clean

Brett Ratner chosen to produce 2012 Oscar telecast

Brett Ratner says Eddie Murphy as Oscar host was meant to be

-- Julie Makinen

Photo: Steve Martin hosting the 75th Academy Awards at Kodak Theatre in Hollywood in 2003. Credit: Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times


Brett Ratner says Eddie Murphy as Oscar host was meant to be

September 6, 2011 |  5:51 pm

Director-producer Brett Ratner of "Rush Hour" fame, who is producing the 84th Academy Awards with Don Mischer, said that it was beshert -- the Yiddish word for "meant to be" -- getting Eddie Murphy to host the ceremony on Feb. 26 on ABC.

"When I was asked to produce the Oscars, I analyzed what was done in the past and I realized I wanted to go back to a single host," said Ratner over the phone from New York late Tuesday afternoon. "I knew before Eddie's name was in the pot, I needed a single comedian. Then I kind of casually mentioned it to Eddie and he thought it was a great idea. That is a hard thing [for a producer] to walk away from."

Rumors that Murphy was in contention as Oscar host swirled over Labor Day weekend, becoming a reality on Tuesday morning when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the 50-year-old Murphy's selection.

Murphy, who hasn't been seen on the big screen since his 2009 flop "Imagine That," also happens to be in Ratner's new film, "Tower Heist," opening Nov. 4. Ratner said choosing Murphy wasn't a publicity stunt for the movie. He noted that the media-shy Murphy agreed to host the awards because the two have a good rapport. "I am hoping I can do my next few movies with him because he is really a comedic genius," Ratner said.

Mischer said he and other awards producers have tried for years to get Murphy, who began his career as a stand-up comedian more than three decades ago, to host. So he was rather surprised and thrilled when the actor agreed.

"I have tried to book Eddie Murphy because we all have such respect for him," Mischer said. "Anytime he's on stage, he hits it out of the park. He never agreed to do anything of this kind before, and when Brett first said to me, 'I just talked to Eddie and he didn't say no,' I said, 'No way he's going to do this ... ."

Ratner said Murphy also agreed because he has "so much love for the academy. He is not only a legend in the business, at least in my eyes, he is also a student of the business. He knows every movie ever made."

Over the decades, many comedians have hosted the Oscars, including Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, Johnny Carson, Chevy Chase, Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, Steve Martin, David Letterman, Jon Stewart and Chris Rock. This last ceremony, the academy courted young views with actors James Franco and Anne Hathaway. Critics were not impressed.

Mischer said they may go back to two hosts at another time, but both he and Ratner wanted a quicker pace for the Oscars.  "From the beginning, Brett shared the vision I had of really letting the show take  off and flying," he said. "It is just much better to do that with one host, especially a host who has got the comedic chops Eddie Murphy has. It really felt right to go with Eddie by himself."

And here is a little Oscar trivia -- Murphy made his debut on the Academy Awards in 1983 as a presenter with Elizabeth McGovern of the visual effects Oscar, which went to "E.T." The hosts were Walter Matthau, Liza Minnelli, Dudley Moore and comedian Richard Pryor.


Eddie Murphy: From mean to clean

Brett Ratner chosen to produce 2012 Oscar telecast

Eddie Murphy named host of 84th Academy Awards

-- Susan King

Photo: Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy in Brett Ratner's "Tower Heist." Credit: David Lee / Universal Pictures

Eddie Murphy named host of 84th Academy Awards

September 6, 2011 | 12:23 pm

Eddie Murphy
The rumors became a reality Tuesday: Eddie Murphy will host the 84th Academy Awards, which will be telecast Feb. 26 on ABC, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced.

Buzz started circulating over Labor Day weekend that the 50-year-old comedian-actor was being considered for the host job. In some ways, it's no surprise, since Murphy is starring in the upcoming film "Tower Heist," which was directed by Brett Ratner --  who is also producing the Academy Awards show with Don Mischer. "Tower Heist" is set to open in November.

By selecting Murphy, the academy is returning to its comedic host roots. The academy attempted to court younger viewers, hiring James Franco and Anne Hathaway to host the 83rd Academy Awards in February. Franco, who in addition to hosting was nominated for a lead actor Oscar for "127 Hours," was roundly trounced by critics for his lackluster performance; reviews were kinder toward Hathaway.

Photos: Eddie Murphy's comedy from mean to clean

Over the years, comics including Bob Burns, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, Johnny Carson, Chevy Chase, Billy Crystal, David Letterman, Chris Rock, Steve Martin, Whoopi Goldberg and Jon Stewart have hosted the awards. Crystal even admitted recently that he was available to host if the academy wanted him.

"Eddie is a comedic genius, one of the greatest and most influential live performers ever," Ratner said in a statement Tuesday. "With his love of movies, history of crafting unforgettable characters and his iconic performances -- especially onstage -- I know he will bring an excitement, spontaneity and tremendous heart to the show Don and I want to produce in February."

 Murphy, who earned a supporting actor Oscar nomination for his dramatic turn in 2006's "Dreamgirls," hasn't been seen on the screen since the 2009 flop "Imagine That," which made just $16.1 million domestically. In fact, another Murphy film, "A Thousand Words," which is now set to open in January, has been on the shelf for more than three years.

However, Murphy has been heard as the wisecracking Donkey in the popular animated "Shrek" franchise.

First coming to fame as a stand-up comedian, he joined NBC's "Saturday Night Live"  in 1980 while still a teenager, performing such characters as Buckwheat and Gumby. Murphy made his film debut opposite Nick Nolte in Walter Hill's 1982 buddy action comedy, "48 Hrs.," followed by such hits as 1983's "Trading Places," 1984's "Beverly Hills Cop" and 1988's "Coming to America. " He made his film debut as a director with 1989's "Harlem Nights."

Murphy was named best actor by the National Socitey of Film Critics for his multiple roles in 1996's "The Nutty Professor." Other hits in the 1990s included 1998's "Doctor Dolittle" and 1999's "Life" and "Bowfinger."  Save for "Dreamgirls," most of the films he's made recently haven been critically lambasted, including 2003's "The Haunted Mansion," 2007's "Norbit" and 2008's "Meet Dave," which made only $11.9 million.


Brett Ratner: Oscar fan who recognizes his outsider status

'Rush Hour' director Brett Ratner to producer the Oscars (really)

Murphy will bring some baggage as host of the 2012 Oscars

-- Susan King

Photo: Eddie Murphy Credit: Bruce McBroom/Paramount Pictures


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