Eddie Murphy stands by his man and his legacy suffers for it

When it rains it pours and for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the past few days has been something close to a hurricane of bad publicity.  Monday and Tuesday dealt with the drama of co-producer Brett Ratner’s incredulous comments over the weekend and his subsequent resignation.  This morning, less than 24 hours later, Ratner’s chosen host, Eddie Murphy, bowed out of emceeing this year’s 84th Academy Awards.

For Murphy this was absolutely the wrong move.  It’s being spun that Murphy departed in support of Ratner, his “Tower Heist” director, but that’s half the story.  Anyone who has worked with Murphy in the past will tell you he committed to this way too quickly for his taste (it all reportedly came together over one weekend) and he’d be looking for a way out as soon as he could.  Enter the Ratner controversy and Murphy has a seemingly easy exit except that he doesn’t.

Murphy’s career is at a strange precipice at the moment.  “Heist” was not the hit either he, Ratner, co-star Ben Stiller or, more importantly, Universal Pictures thought it would be.  In fact, the studio will be happy to break even after international grosses are eventually tallied. His last two live action releases, “Imagine That” and “Meet Dave,” grossed a combined $27.8 million domestically.  His last big hit was “Norbit,” but it was critically lambasted and was seen as influencing his upset lost for best supporting actor for “Dreamgirls.”  A role that had won him a Golden Globe, SAG Award and Critics’ Choice Award.  Murphy has another turd on the horizon, “A Thousand Words” (which was shot over two years ago), and has publicly killed any potential “Beverly Hills Cop” reboot or comeback vehicle.  Whether he believes it or not, Murphy needed a strong Oscar hosting performance to remind audiences and the industry why they loved his so much in his ’80s classics like “Trading Places” and “Coming to America” and in ’90s films such as “The Nutty Professor” and “Daddy Day Care.”  Murphy can easily retire and enjoy the good life, but as one of the premier comic voices in the history of cinema his legacy is becoming increasingly tarnished.  Just when he gets the respect and accolades he deserves for “Dreamgirls,” does Eddie start to get picky about what his next projects should be?  No, along comes “Norbit” and two throwaway releases (although “Meet Dave” is really underrated and a victim of a horrible marketing campaign from 20th Century Fox at the time). And now the self-destructive cycle is working its magic once more. Anyone in the industry who is looking for Murphy to accomplish yet another “comeback” has to be banging their head against a wall regarding his decision today.  Frankly, it’s sad.

[Updated] The Academy has brought in Murphy’s “Heist” producer, Brian Grazer, to co-produce the show alongside returning producer and director Don Mischer, but getting a new host — and quickly — is just as paramount.  Obviously, the easiest and perhaps safest move would be to bring in Billy Crystal for one more go around.  Crystal publicly put his hat in the ring after the disastrous pairing of Anne Hathaway and James Franco for the 83rd installment this past February. Crystal, along with Steve Martin, Jon Stewart and Hugh Jackman would instantly put ABC more at ease with the show just under four months away. 

There are also grumblings that Ratner and Misher were actually very behind in ramping up for this year’s production.  Whoever comes on board is going to have to jump in quickly to right the ship. 

As for Eddie? Well, it was a nice thought while it lasted.  Enjoy the early retirement.

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