When I spoke to Brett Ratner on the day he was announced as a producer of next year’s Oscar telecast, he told me that his vision of the night “entails comedy” and that “the key to this show is making it funny.” The early punchline from Ratner haters was that the filmmaker, who directed three Rush Hour films, would hire Chris Tucker, who hasn’t released a movie in over four years. My first thought was that Ratner would enlist Ben Stiller, one of the stars of his upcoming comedic thriller Tower Heist. But he’s gone with another Tower Heist star, Eddie Murphy, which strikes me as a less predictable and much better idea.
Filmmakers who produce the Oscars like to go with performers they’ve worked with for comfort’s sake; that’s why Bruce Cohen went with his Milk costar James Franco and Adam Shankman chose his Bringing Down the House star Steve Martin. Ratner, who’s 42, is clearly of the generation that grew up worshiping Murphy on Saturday Night Live and in his raunchy stand-up films Delirious and Raw. But the once dangerous Murphy is better known these days for a run of unfunny family films. On the Kodak Theatre stage, Murphy obviously can’t be the guy from Delirious, because all we’d hear is a four-hour bleep. But if his jokes are of the Daddy Day Care variety, then we’ll be in for a really long night. I’m hopeful that with Ratner behind him, Murphy will exude that unique combination of cheshire-cat grin and naughty humor that he used to such great effect in the Beverly Hills Cop films.
As we saw earlier this year, hosting the Oscars is possibly the most risky and thankless job in Hollywood. One major star told me recently that he’s turned the gig down several times, since the likelihood of falling on your face is so high. But if Murphy succeeds on Feb. 26, the hosting gig could resuscitate his grown-up movie career in the process. Anyone who saw his electrifying performance in Dreamgirls knows he’s capable of much more than mugging in movies like Imagine That or Meet Dave (as much as I like that title). Look what awards-show emceeing has done for Neil Patrick Harris or Hugh Jackman; wouldn’t it be great if the Oscars helped return one of our best comedians to his former glory?
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