The Courtship of Eddie's Ego

Eddie Murphy's metamorphosis from foulmouthed ghetto comic into suave leading man is now almost complete, but so far it's been about as successful as Woody Allen's bumbling reincarnation as a lox-and-bagel Cary Grant. Because at least when Murphy was talking dirty and raising feminist hackles, he brought some hyperkinetic energy to the task; sometimes he was as funny as any man afoot. In Boomerang, his second movie as Mr. Cool, Murphy's weaknesses as a budding heartthrob become more incriminating with every gag -- even more than they were in Harlem Nights. The smug leer and cat-that-ate-the-canary giggle don't cut it as character traits. Meanwhile the jokes hit the bull's eye as often as Dan Quayle quotes read like Eugene O'Neill.

Murphy portrays one Marcus Graham, a well-heeled Manhattan marketing exec and notorious playboy, who gets his comeuppance from a slick career woman who starts treating him like a sex object. The Murphy character is clearly intended to reflect shifting gender roles in the 1990s, but Marcus is really old hat. It may come as a surprise to Murphy and his co-writers, fellow Saturday Night Live alumni Barry Blaustein and David Sheffield, but movie heroines have been taming and redeeming cocky bachelors since the advent of sound.

The only new twist, of course, is the race of these players. Boomerang demonstrates once again the willingness of the more commercial black moviemakers to simply reproduce paleolithic genre cliches: Murphy and workaday director Reginald Hudlum (House Party) do it shamelessly here.

Like any middling Depression-era screwball comedy or bustling Fifties office farce (starring, say, Rock Hudson and Doris Day), Boomerang is part fashion show, part architectural tour, and part corporate satire, glued together by the kind of mindless slush that passes for snappy repartee among office towers in Manhattan. This pillow talk is little raunchier than movie banter was during the Eisenhower administration, but only because Mrs. Murphy's problem child hasn't had his mouth completely washed out with soap.

Mike Tyson's former sparring partner, Robin Givens (A Rage in Harlem), co-stars as the self-assured fellow exec who begins yanking Murphy's chain and displaying her immunity to his come-ons the minute her cosmetics company swallows his. Givens is beautiful and at least looks sophisticated, but the image of a hormone-ravaged teen-ager keeps creeping in: We can never quite believe that this winky, manipulative sex kitten is really the strategist behind a major corporation.

Halle Berry (Jungle Fever) pops up as the familiar True Blue Woman, and Murphy has provided work for two pals, David Alan Grier and Martin Lawrence, in smallish roles as Marcus Graham's chatty best friends. There's some obligatory honky-baiting (a sniffy white salesman disses our heroes in an upscale men's shop), and someone has propped up poor Eartha Kitt in a cameo as the horny old figurehead of Givens's high-toned cosmetics firm.

After bedding Givens, Berry, and every other beauty in New York, Murphy's Graham is humiliated, then redeemed, which will come as a surprise to no one. The movie's funniest scene, meanwhile, springs from an unexpected source: It's the outrageous TV commercial in which a haughty international model calledStrangie (Grace Jones) literally gives birth to a new brand of perfume. (Jones's train of gay disco worshipers will undoubtedly be tantalized.) Earlier, she removes her scanty underwear and shoves it into the company chemist's face -- just the touch of crassness Boomerang could use more often. But not with Eddie at the helm, trying to mix cool with Cole Porter.

BOOMERANG
Directed by Reginald Hudlin; written by Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield from a story by Eddie Murphy; with Eddie Murphy, Robin Givens, Halle Berry and Eartha Kitt.

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