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Eddie Murphy needs to re-find inner comedian

Sean Sweany | Monday, February 12, 2007

In case you missed it, “Norbit” was the top movie at the box office over the weekend. “Norbit,” as in another movie where Eddie Murphy plays multiple roles, again donning a “fat suit” to play a character that interacts directly with his normal, thin self. Call me a Debbie Downer, but the repeated trend of Murphy playing numerous roles within a film reeks to me of the death of his comic ability.

Gone are the days of Murphy’s standup routines, his “Saturday Night Live” career and the “Beverly Hills Cop” movies. In other words, gone are his funny days. The movie “Coming to America” – while entertaining – started the trend of Murphy playing multiple roles in the same film, most notably the African prince Akeem. By all accounts, this was a good movie, and Murphy showed a fair amount of acting versatility in the various roles he played.

It seems that he liked doing this so much, he wanted to play more than one character as often as he could. He did it again in Wes Craven’s “Vampire in Brooklyn.” You’ve probably seen the DVD cover at Blockbuster and laughed as you passed it by. It highlights Eddie Murphy looking like one of the most inept vampires of all time while holding a swooning Angela Bassett. Most critics panned the film and Murphy’s attempt at portraying multiple characters when he couldn’t even get one of them right.

One would think Murphy might have stopped trying the multiple roles thing after this flop, but the next year, he starred a whopping seven times in “The Nutty Professor.” This was another film that was mildly entertaining, but each of Murphy’s characters seemed at times so similar, that you couldn’t help but wonder why Sherman Klump needed such a large, neurotic family when they were all nearly identical anyways.

“Bowfinger” was another film in which Murphy played two characters, and while it wasn’t awful, it was quirky enough for many people (this writer included) to dislike it. The greatest insult occurred when Murphy reprised his seven roles in “The Nutty Professor II” and managed to make all seven characters even more similar than the first go-round. “The Nutty Professor II” seemed to have been produced solely to give Murphy a chance to act as different characters in a desperate attempt to show the world that he was still funny.

Aside from “Shrek,” most of his following movies disproved this point, most notably “Showtime”, “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” and “The Haunted Mansion.” After the “Mansion” flop, Murphy stayed away from starring roles for nearly four years, until “Norbit.”

To digress, recently Murphy earned an Oscar nomination for “Dreamgirls,” but in this film he is both serious and a supporting actor – two facets of acting where he is on unfamiliar ground. Perhaps this is the sign of a new Eddie Murphy, an unfunny, serious Eddie Murphy, which would be a shame since he used to have such a knack for comedy.

He tried to revive that knack with “Norbit,” but the movie is just plain unfunny (blame the high ticket sales on Murphy’s popularity because of “Dreamgirls,” not the quality of “Norbit”). He has returned to his ways by playing three characters and once again wearing a fat suit as one of them.

The idea of a fat suit is inherently funny when an actor does it one time, much like Ben Stiller did at the end of “Dodgeball.” However, Eddie Murphy has now done this so many times, people come to expect him to wear the fat suit in multiple roles in his new films.

Lets hope that it doesn’t come to that. Lets hope that Eddie Murphy rediscovers his comic self and doesn’t go down the potentially devastating road of “The Nutty Professor III: Thee Times the Klumps.”

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.