Dreamgirls gave to Eddie, Norbit will take away. Is this right in a purely logical sense? Absolutely not. Am I in favor of him being arbitrarily punished for the disaster that is Norbit? Yes, yes I am. This madness has got to stop somewhere.
A little back-story for those just joining in. Eddie has already won the Golden Globe and the Screen Actor's Guild Award (called "The Actor") for his portrayal of James "Thunder" Early in the hit musical Dreamgirls. Dreamgirls sports eight Oscar nominations, including one for Eddie, and it will soon hit the $100 million mark at the theaters. It's got a healthy rating at RottenTomatoes, and I gave it an "A." In short, the momentum should be blistering for Eddie at this point. But a dark cloud looms on the horizon. That dark cloud is Norbit, which releases this Friday. The film has Eddie back in the fat suit, working meaningless and inconsequential comedy. It's a far cry from the song of Dreamgirls, and any money it makes comes from the bar being set incredibly low for comedies released in February.
Since 2000 Eddie Murphy has done his absolute best to sabotage his career. His voice work in Shrek notwithstanding (I mean, c'mon, it's voice work), his highest rated film on the IMDB user ratings is Daddy Day Care at an abysmal 5.70. That film came out in 2003 and garnered a lovely 29 percent critical approval rating. Guys, that's not good. Now, truth be told, Eddie has made the studios money over this past decade, but in doing so he shredded all credibility on the humor, innovation, and acting fronts. Which is why Dreamgirls was so remarkable. The general consensus was, "Hey, Remember Eddie Murphy?? He's still alive!" I was among those sharing the sentiment. I had left the guy for dead, and seeing him do great work was like greeting a friend whose rehab program was finally sticking after a dozen tries. I had the feeling of being at the "welcome back dinner." I was just happy for the guy, and happy for myself that I got to see vintage Murphy return before I passed on.
That goodwill has now been washed away in a sea of Norbit fat jokes. In fairness to Eddie he took the role when Dreamgirls wasn't the powerhouse it is today; Murphy did Norbit directly after wrapping on Dreamgirls. Murphy wouldn't have had a chance to skip a paycheck with the realization that he could do "serious" work again because it would have been impossible to truly gauge Dreamgirls' success. Additionally, based upon one of his acceptance speeches he seems to have been paid almost nothing for Dreamgirls, so the "working for cash after a vanity project" idea probably appealed to him. I, however, would advocate the notion that Murphy shouldn't have taken the role of Norbit at any time, in any universe, under any conditions. He'd done the same joke in 1996 with The Nutty Professor and it was only slightly funny then. Going back to the well on a fat suit reeks of desperation. Did Murphy need the money? I hope not. No matter the circumstances it's clear now that his radar for accepting roles is severely screwed up. And this is going to cost him the Oscar.
How, you ask? What does Dreamgirls have to do with Norbit? Well, like everything else in life, it comes down to timing, and in this case the timing couldn't be worse. Norbit releases today and the complaints are already mounting. Today CNN featured a segment where grievances were legitimately aired about the film's savage attack on the obese. This last "safe" bastion of lowbrow comedy is used in every single minute of the movie. Even if you somehow get past the offensive manner of the film, this one-note theme dooms any chance of comedy. None of this would matter, though, if the Oscar vote wasn't held so close to the actual ceremony. Based on the anecdotal evidence I've looked at, there still seems to be about two weeks left to vote (trust me, finding hard facts about anything Oscar related is like locating the Fort Knox blueprints). In those two weeks the groundswell will rise against Eddie and his well earned Oscar will go up in flames. If Norbit had been released in March, Norbit's awesome badness would have never come into play. So how did Murphy get sabotaged so thoroughly (besides his own free will, that is)? A little studio called Dreamworks.
I'm terrible at figuring out the financing behind films, but Dreamworks seems to be the backing behind both Dreamgirls and Norbit. There are probably other production houses involved who have some say in the release date for Norbit, but Dreamworks' name is listed on both projects. Clearly someone somewhere had the great idea that Murphy was hot and Norbit would benefit from his newfound publicity. Shame on Dreamworks and whoever else was involved for going ahead with this. Even if Norbit was financed by a direct competitor of Dreamworks, courtesy would dictate that Murphy get a clean shot at a fair vote. Someone should have begged, pleaded, or bribed to have Norbit moved back a few weeks. Sadly, now Eddie will be sacrificed on the altar of awful release dates and unfunny comedy.
This brings me back to my original point. Eddie Murphy should lose the Oscar for doing Norbit in the same manner that a substance abuser should be put back in rehab for lapsing at their "welcome back" party. It's a raw deal for Eddie because he was tremendous in Dreamgirls, but if losing the Oscar gets us out of another decade of bad choices by him, it's a price we should all be willing to pay.