Skip to main content

My dear, sweet brother Numsie!


The Golden Child
(1986)

Post-Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy could have filmed himself washing the dishes and it would have been a huge hit. Which might not have been a bad idea, since he chose to make this misconceived stinker.

The 1980s may have been the actor’s peak period as a star, but it also yielded many of his weakest movies. Only Coming to America holds up out of his pictures in the last half of the decade, and that’s no classic.  The first question that comes to mind with The Golden Child is why on earth Murphy went near it. The chance to broaden his appeal by making a PG-13 movie? But why would you neuter the cheerful vulgarity that is the key to your appeal? Shorn of his trademark crudity, a buttoned-down Murphy must coast on charisma and that laugh of his. There aren’t many guffaws for the audience, though. When you learn that this was conceived as a straight drama set to star Mel Gibson, and then reworked as an ill-fitting comedy for Murphy, things begin to make more sense. Tonally, it feels all wrong for a family movie, with missing teenagers turning up dead and child sacrifice.

Murphy completely fails to convince as a social worker. He is appropriately unlikely as the Chosen One, prophesised to protect the titular child (who is the saviour of mankind). Dastardly Charles Dance has abducted and plans to kill him, don’t you know. Dance is suitably satanic, but his rent-a-British-villain act is much more fun in Last Action Hero.

I guess this might have worked, with a different director and a better script. And decent special effects and a change of star. Actually, probably not. John Carpenter was originally attached to direct, so he dodged a bullet when he chose to make the wonderful Big Trouble in Little China instead (which bombed at the box office but was also replete with Chinese mysticism). Curiously, both films share several cast members; James Hong, Victor Wong and Peter Kwong.

Michael Ritchie came onboard, an erratic director who was responsible for the effective political satire The Candidate during the ‘70s but increasingly settled into a pattern of making broad comedies with dubious production values (1980’s The Island is an exception and something of an oddity, with Michael Caine menaced by modern day pirates).  He gave Chevy Chase had a big hit with Fletch the previous year, and his first of two 1986 releases was the modestly successful Goldie Hawn American football comedy Wildcats. Both of those look like finely honed masterpieces compared to the shoddy work here. The pacing is poor, the action clumsy, the score intrusively tone deaf (Michel Colombier replaced John Barry; presumably the latter’s work was too good for a film of this crappy), the special effects lousy (and really poorly integrated). It looks consistently cheap and tacky, with garish lighting, sets that look like sets, and ludicrously over-used dry ice. In addition, the treatment of Charlotte Lewis is shamelessly sexist in the way only really trashy ‘80s movies can be; at one point she is drenched with water and spends the rest of the scene cavorting in a see-through wet t-shirt.

Murphy occasionally ekes out a chuckle or two, addressing Dance’s Sardo Numspa as Brother Numsie. There’s also a half-decent dream sequence. But the funniest moments are all Wong’s. He looks like he’s having a great time as a vulgar priest, belching away and picking his nose. But there is precious little inspired lunacy on display, and there are very few thrills. Instead, a pervading unpleasant undertone informs the proceedings. Perhaps Murphy was looking for a supernatural hit to rival Ghostbusters (Dan Aykroyd wrote Winston with Murphy in mind); what he got may have been one of the top ten films of 1986, but in every other respect it’s a failure.

*1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

Stupid adult hands!

Shazam! (2019)
(SPOILERS) Shazam! is exactly the kind of movie I hoped it would be, funny, scary (for kids, at least), smart and delightfully dumb… until the final act. What takes place there isn’t a complete bummer, but right now, it does pretty much kill any interest I have in a sequel.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

I have discovered the great ray that first brought life into the world.

Frankenstein (1931)
(SPOILERS) To what extent do Universal’s horror classics deserved to be labelled classics? They’re from the classical Hollywood period, certainly, but they aren’t unassailable titans that can’t be bettered – well unless you were Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan trying to fashion a Dark Universe with zero ingenuity. And except maybe for the sequel to the second feature in their lexicon. Frankenstein is revered for several classic scenes, boasts two mesmerising performances, and looks terrific thanks to Arthur Edeson’s cinematography, but there’s also sizeable streak of stodginess within its seventy minutes.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

Only an idiot sees the simple beauty of life.

Forrest Gump (1994)
(SPOILERS) There was a time when I’d have made a case for, if not greatness, then Forrest Gump’s unjust dismissal from conversations regarding its merits. To an extent, I still would. Just not nearly so fervently. There’s simply too much going on in the picture to conclude that the manner in which it has generally been received is the end of the story. Tarantino, magnanimous in the face of Oscar defeat, wasn’t entirely wrong when he suggested to Robert Zemeckis that his was a, effectively, subversive movie. Its problem, however, is that it wants to have its cake and eat it.

Do not mention the Tiptoe Man ever again.

Glass (2019)
(SPOILERS) If nothing else, one has to admire M Night Shyamalan’s willingness to plough ahead regardless with his straight-faced storytelling, taking him into areas that encourage outright rejection or merciless ridicule, with all the concomitant charges of hubris. Reactions to Glass have been mixed at best, but mostly more characteristic of the period he plummeted from his must-see, twist-master pedestal (during the period of The Village and The Happening), which is to say quite scornful. And yet, this is very clearly the story he wanted to tell, so if he undercuts audience expectations and leaves them dissatisfied, it’s most definitely not a result of miscalculation on his part. For my part, while I’d been prepared for a disappointment on the basis of the critical response, I came away very much enjoying the movie, by and large.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…