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

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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.


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-- Steven Zeitchik