Ever since he broke out as a young comedian on Saturday Night Live in the early 1980s, we’ve been privvy to the two sides of Eddie Murphy: There’s the family-friendly Eddie, who gifted physical comedy to audiences of all ages in films like The Nutty Professor, Dr. Doolittle, and Shrek; and then there’s raw Eddie, who showed us his expletive-loving self in the likes of 48 Hours, Beverly Hills Cop, and, well, Raw.
But as many are debating on our message boards, which Eddie will he break out on Oscar night? As EW previously reported, Murphy has been confirmed as the host of the 84th Annual Academy Awards. And, like we felt last year when James Franco and Anne Hathaway were announced as emcees, we’re not sure what to expect from his hosting duties. (Of course, the answer is probably a bit more clear-cut than a ceremony headed by the stoner dude from Pineapple Express and The Princess Diaries girl.) We’re talking about a ceremony with a history of both playing it safe (Johnny Carson, Billy Crystal, Ellen DeGeneres) and spicing things up (Chris Rock, David Letterman, Jon Stewart). Which side will Murphy favor? Or, the better question is: Which side should Murphy favor?
Whatever your feelings for the actor back in his glory days, it’s undeniable that, in recent years, Murphy has seemed out of touch with audiences’ interests. Though he has admittedly been busy raking in millions as an animated donkey in the Shrek franchise, his live-action work (Meet Dave, Imagine That, Norbit) has felt like straight-to-video fare that was rejected in the 1990s. And the only way to increase that unwanted reputation is to play it safe during the Oscars ceremony. Sure, Carson and Crystal hit gold catering to a family-friendly audience in their days — but if there are two things that Murphy ain’t, it’s Carson or Crystal. An Eddie Murphy who refuses to take chances would seem as wrong as an Ellen DeGeneres on primetime: Her cuddly sense of humor was lost on Oscars’ 2007 audience like Finding Nemo‘s Dory. Murphy, a comedy legend who has excelled with bluer stand-up bits, would seem just as awkward not bringing some zest to the telecast.
But based purely on the fact that Tower Heist director Brett Ratner is producing the 2012 ceremony, one would think we could expect a visit from Raw Eddie. But based on Ratner’s words to EW about his Oscar host choice, Murphy might be aiming more for the heart. Said Ratner to EW: “I just did Tower Heist with him, and he was funny as hell and didn’t say one bad word. Yes, he’s a surprising talent, and he’s going to surprise people and be irreverent. But he also knows how to not only entertain the crowd, but how to move people.” I’m all for being moved, but I can’t help but hope he elevates his hosting gig slightly past a G-rated level. It’s true that the Academy Awards have been experimental over the past few years, but there’s a reason the 2011 Golden Globes were one of the most buzzed-about TV events of the year: Ricky Gervais. Viewers like to see hosts that take chances on the stage, for better or for worse. Just look at Rock: Sure, his famous Jude Law routine in 2005 might have incurred the scorn of Sean Penn, but it created a true moment… and, as my colleague Adam B. Vary said, who or what hasn’t incurred the scorn of Sean Penn? And that’s exactly what the Oscars have been missing in years past: A moment that viewers can latch onto. (And, no, James Franco in drag doesn’t count.) Not only could some extra guts from Murphy raise the telecast’s ratings this time around, but, like my colleague Dave Karger wrote, it could also help “return one of our best comedians to his former glory.” Or, at the very least, make up for Norbit right?
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