Eddie Murphy, Harold Ramis, and the Art of Rooting For The Underdog

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Eddie. Murphy. Is. Back.

If you are a 80’s/90’s kid, you remember the cultural earthquake that was Eddie Murphy. He was the first Saturday Night Live post-original cast breakout star and single-handedly kept the show on the air from 1981-1984 (some of my earliest television memories).

During this time period, Murphy would go on to parlay his Saturday Night Live fame into 80’s classic movies 48 Hours, Trading Places, and Beverly Hills Cop – the holy trinity for a kid my age. THAT is how you jumpstart a career.

From there the Box Office magic kept happening, including stand up specials Raw and Delirious, and Murphy would go on to close out the decade with the smash hit Coming To America followed by the criminally underrated  Harlem Nights. With apologies to Stallone and Schwarzenegger, the 1980’s (and a lot of my childhood) belonged to Murphy.

Then the 90’s happened.

During the first half of the decade, Murphy’s box office magic disappeared due to a series of box office and critical flops (Boomerang, The Distinguished Gentleman, A Vampire in Brooklyn) only to have the magic revived with transition into family friendly movies.

The Eddie Murphy from my child hood was gone and replaced with a generic Disney generated monster. The swear words were replaced with a donkey, Axel Foley was replaced by Pluto Nash, and the raunchy and edgy comedian of my youth seemed to be gone forever.

Then the biopic Dolemite Is My Name happened.

In short, Murphy plays struggling comedian and aspiring actor Rudy Ray Moore, who in real life would go on to create Blaxploitation royalty character Dolemite; a crime fighting ladies man who helps those in need. Dolemite Is My Name tells Rudy Ray Moore’s story.

The story is largely generic – a struggling group of rag tag outsiders have to accomplish a goal (making a Dolemite movie while overcoming racial barriers) and stick it to the establishment. Whether it be Revenge of the Nerds, Caddyshack, or Animal House, we are all familiar with the ‘Slobs VS. Snobs’ trope.

What makes this movie stand apart is Murphy’s endearing portrayal of underdog Moore and the supporting cast of the movie inside a movie. I believe that Murphy shows more depth in this role than in any previous role and takes his acting talents to the next level.

Hot Take: Murphy will be nominated for an Academy Award, due to this great role and as a reward for his body of work, but not take home the Oscar.

Other notable performances that make up Moore’s crew are:

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  • Keegan-Michael Key as screenwriter Jerry Jones.
  • Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Lady Reed; Moore’s onscreen partner and artistic soulmate.
  • Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Titus Burgess as assorted friends and supporters of Moore.
  • Bob Odenkirk as Dimension Pictures (a B Movie studio) executive Lawrence Woolner.
  • And most especially Wesley Snipes as snooty director D’Urville Martin. Snipes has serious comedic chops (who knew?), steals every scene and may also be looking at an Oscar nomination.

In short, this is a charming movie with the exactly correct balance of depth and humor. Sure, you have seen it before, but you should see it again.

REMEMBERING HAROLD RAMIS ON HIS 75th BIRTHDAY

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To say the late Harold Ramis was a comedic visionary who could do it all, is an understatement of biblical proportions. From writer, to director, to producer, to the actor, Ramis wore many hats and he wore them well. I was first introduced to his skill set in 1984, when my parents drove me to the Glenbrook Mall in Fort Wayne, Indiana to see Ghostbusters.

Quite frankly, it was one of the best days of my life.

As we left the theater and collectively piled into our wood paneled tank of an Oldsmobile Station Wagon, my life was forever changed. Replaying the movie in my mind, I, like every other seven year old in America, was instantly smitten with Slimer, The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Proton Packs, and The Ectomobile.

However, Harold Ramis’ nerdy scientist character Egon Spangler made me laugh more than any other Ghostbuster, even though I was too young to get the jokes. This may seem odd but when you dive a little deeper, the thought of Harold Ramis making a seven year old from Ohio laugh isn’t that outrageous. If you are questioning why, let’s look at his catalog:

 

1978                      National Lampoon’s Animal House          *Writer

1979                       Meatballs                                                       *Writer

1980                       Caddyshack                                                   *Writer/Director

1981                       Stripes                                                             *Writer/Actor

1983                       National Lampoon’s Vacation                     *Director

1984                       Ghostbusters                                                   *Writer/Actor

1986                       Back To School                                                 *Writer/Producer

1989                       Ghostbusters 2                                                  *Writer

1993                       Groundhog Day                                               *Writer/Director/Producer

1995                       Stuart Saves His Family                                 *Director

1996                       Multiplicity                                                          *Director

1999                       Analyze This                                                        *Director

 

Wow. Quite the resume.

To me, the reason is obvious: this greatest hits catalog has (like Dolemite is My Name) humor that appeals to a child, a panache for the underdog, and has optimism for a happy ending – not only in these particular films, but in life. Harold Ramis made movies for kids and adults and he made movies that made people happy.

No example is more appropriate than his 1993 fantasy comdey Groundhog Day. This timeless classic is a movie that director Frank Capra (Mr. Deeds Goes To Town, It’s A Wonderful Life) would have made if he was directing films in the 1990s. Sweet, touching, and funny with a protagonist who has to overcome the greatest of odds, Groundhog Day is a true cinematic marvel that is perfect for the Holiday, or any other, season.

Happy 75th Birthday, Harold Ramis. We sure do miss you.

FILTH, FLARN & PROTON PACKS

  • Did you know that Ramis directed four episodes of the American version of The Office? They are: A Benihana Christmas, Safety Training, Beach Games, The Delivery. If memory serves, those are are four damn good episodes.
  • I don’t think it is crazy to think that had Ramis lived, he would have been honored by the Kennedy Center for a lifetime achievement in comedy.
  • Eddie Murphy returns to Saturday Night Live with musical guest Lizzo on December 21st. Consider the DVR set.
  • The Ramis directed Back To School made almost 100 million dollars in 1986. Crazy. BTS

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