When I was 19, my friends and I invented fireball. We hollowed out a nerf football, filled it with gas, lit it on fire, and kicked it around. The goal of the game, more or less, was…Do Not Die. I mention this as a standard of comparison because when Eddie Murphy was 19, he was starring on Saturday Night Live.
People forget after Murphy’s career has bottomed out twice, that he was in the 1980s the single biggest comedy superstar of his generation. SNL would have died on the vine after the original cast left the show if Murphy had not single-handedly kept the sketch comedy show afloat. Then came 48 Hours when Murphy was 21. By the time Beverly Hills Cop came out in 1984, Murphy (a seasoned 24 years of age) was a rock star, and unlike 48 Hours, which has not aged very well, Beverly Hills Cop still stands up a quarter-century later.
The fish out of water story is a staple of comedy (and film in general), but there’s something about Detroit cop Axel Foley (Murphy) wandering around the surreal landscape of 1980s Beverly Hills that works incredibly well. The film had kicked around Hollywood for years mostly as a much more serious action film. Mickey Rourke was first offered the part. Sylvester Stallone had it for a while and had renamed the character “Axel Cobretti”. Richard Pryor, Al Pacino, and James Caan all passed on the role before it was retooled to be an action-comedy and Murphy was approached after the success of 48 Hours. The film was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Film Musical or Comedy and an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and ended up as the highest-grossing film of 1984 in the United States.
As good as Murphy is as Foley, and he’s astounding, he nearly has his movie stolen from him by a pre-Perfect Strangers Bronson Pinchot. Sometimes all someone has to do to be funny in a bit role is to just be patently absurd. There’s something about Serge’s accent that makes it impossible for me to listen to him for more than thirty seconds without losing my mind, and I’m not alone. All through the gallery scene that introduces Serge to the world, Murphy is clearly barely keeping it together. Eddie’s best scene is the classic storming of the country club, but it’s Serge that keeps me rewatching this film.
Super Troopers has become a cult classic comedy since its release in 2001. Fans of the film so wanted a sequel (opening this Friday) that when the Broken Lizard comedy troupe, whose cast members star in the film, asked for help in raising $2 million dollars in a crowdfunding campaign to secure locations, they had it in 26 hours. The film is wildly uneven, and a fair review of it is that it’s a comedy that has some fantastic scenes, but feels a bit overlong and patched together…..that being said you really end up kind of loving it.
The film is about a group of bored, misfit Vermont State Troopers who spend most of their time chugging maple syrup and finding new ways to amuse themselves by torturing the people they pull over. The film has one of the best openings of any comedy, but my favorite set piece, because it’s so easy to do to people in real life, is The Cat Game. The goal of The Cat Game is to see how many times the trooper can work the word “meow” into a routine traffic stop, and it’s awesome. I would be lying if I said I had not done this to people in a customer service capacity on the phone on tremendously long Tuesday afternoons. So if you’re THAT bored today….
The Wolf of Wall Street is a fascinating film, but I don’t know that I would exactly recommend it to anyone because it’s also kind of reprehensible. THIS IS A RED BAND CLIP, in other words. Not only is Scorcese in his full “F-bomb-as-a-substitute-for-writing-dialogue” mode, but pretty much everyone in the film is on drugs for most of the film. Drugs are BAD! However…..this is too hilarious to not recognize, so that’s my moral equivocation opening. Physical comedy is something that’s not chic right now, but masters of it (ex. Dick Van Dyke) have proven that it can be just as funny and witty as the cleverest retort. When you think “physical comedy”, Leonardo DiCaprio is not a name that springs to the fore. However, DiCaprio’s acrobatics trying to reach and operate his car when a metric ton of quaaludes hit his system is, by far, the film’s best scene. His inchworm contortions are amazing, and this is really only half the performance, because he only degrades when he reaches home and gets in a fight with an equally quaaluded Jonah Hill. Whatever you may think of the film as a whole, this part is brilliant. DRUGS ARE BAD! Ok, think I covered myself there.
Dissecting what makes people laugh pretty much ruins any humor you’re trying to examine. It’s like trying to pin mercury down. Something makes you laugh or it doesn’t. While it’s easy to agree on great dramatic films, finding consensus on comedies is so much harder. It’s very similar, in a way, to what scares you: it does or it doesn’t. That being said, the state of comedies in Hollywood is about at its lowest ebb in recent memory. If there’s one good comedy a year now that seems to be a triumph. Comedies are infinitely harder to write than dramas and operate almost on a pass/fail reaction, rather than the different degrees with which you can like a drama.
I love Will Ferrell. I know a lot don’t, but I think he’s hysterical and way more talented, a lot of the time, than the material he takes. He can actually ACT if you’ve forgotten Stranger Than Fiction (and it’s a sin if you did). His comedies with Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, etc.) have been largely hits in my book and I just rewatched 2010’s The Other Guys with my brother the other night and remembered how much I liked it.
The film, overall, is hysterical for the first half and then spends the second half coasting off the tropes established in the first while McKay tries to make a misguided serious point about corporate bailouts, white collar crime and TARP, but I find it an overall hoot. Pairing what is essentially Mark Wahlberg’s character from The Departed and making him the hysterical partner to Will Ferrell’s accountant cop makes for a great dynamic. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in this scene where Wahlberg’s character tries to chew out his partner and is rebutted with one of the greatest absurdist rants in recent memory.