Academy agrees to the first-time producer's No. 1 choice

In landing Eddie Murphy as host, Academy Awards producer Brett Ratner managed to bring an element of surprise to a traditional choice: While Murphy is a standup vet, former “Saturday Night Live” cast member and bona fide movie star, he hasn’t taken the stage in decades, and his more recent films have struggled.

The return to a comedian as emcee was widely expected after this year’s pairing of thesps James Franco and Anne Hathaway was widely panned. But Murphy comes with his own set of question marks.

While Murphy remains a household name, his star power isn’t near its peak in the late 1980s and early ’90s. And his comedic tone playsedgier than the Oscarcast’s comfort level (though that didn’t stop the Acad from handing the emcee mic to Chris Rock and Jon Stewart).

Ratner, who is producing the Oscarcast with Don Mischer, should know exactly what he’s getting into with Murphy, having just directed him and Ben Stiller in “Tower Heist,” which comes out Nov. 4 — more than three months before the Feb. 26 Academy Awards ceremony. If the movie does well, it could help bring new viewers to the kudocast.

“I am enormously honored to join the great list of past Academy Award hosts from Hope and Carson to Crystal, Martin and Goldberg, among others,” Murphy said in a statement released by AMPAS on Tuesday. (The official release was anticlimactic as the news of Murphy’s selection broke Saturday night on the Web.)

“I’m looking forward to working with Brett and Don on creating a show that is enjoyable for both the fans at home and for the audience at the Kodak Theater as we all come together to celebrate and recognize the great film contributions and collaborations from the past year.”

If Murphy is well received as Oscar host, the gig could provide a big career boost to the 50-year-old thesp. Murphy is already getting good notices from his role in “Tower Heist,” his first film since the underwhelming 2009 offering “Imagine That.” The comedian has also kept busy with voice work for the “Shrek” franchise and was recently attached to voice a bigscreen version of the ’70s toon “Hong Kong Phooey.”

Murphy began his standup career at a young age and joined the cast of “Saturday Night Live” at 19. He made his feature film debut in 1982 with “48 Hrs.,” followed by “Trading Places” in 1983 — the same year he recorded the hit album “Eddie Murphy: Comedian.” He and Ratner have been exploring a revival of the “Beverly Hills Cop” franchise, which spanned three movies from 1984 to 1994.

“Eddie is a comedic genius, one of the greatest and most influential live performers ever,” Ratner said. “With his love of movies, history of crafting unforgettable characters and his iconic performances — especially onstage — I know he will bring excitement, spontaneity and tremendous heart to the show Don and I want to produce in February.”

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