In “Boomerang” Eddie Murphy straitjackets himself in an ill-fitting comedy vehicle that’s desperately in need of a reality check. With several very funny scenes, film should do well enough in the summer comedy box office sweepstakes but is unlikely to rank with the star’s big hits.
For his 11th feature film, Murphy is credited with the high-concept story, developed by scripters Barry Blaustein and David Sheffield as a cornball tale of comeuppance.
He’s a New York cosmetics firm exec whom women find irresistible (all six female leads want to seduce him). After the business merges with a French company, new departmental boss Robin Givens turns the tables on Murphy and treats him the way he’s been treating women all his adult life.
Film works best when Murphy plays up his strong suits, including a childlike innocence, flair for mimicry and self-deprecating humor.
Unfortunately, his character’s fat ego keeps hogging center stage. That he’s dominated during the middle reels by aggressive Givens doesn’t make up for the blatant sexism of the script.
Only naturalistic character in a cast of caricatures is subordinate Halle Berry, but that’s only for the first half of the film. Continuing her persona from her previous film, a similar comedy about upwardly mobile blacks, “Strictly Business,” Berry suddenly becomes aggressive and as one-note as Givens’ character in the schematic later reels.
Director Reginald Hudlin, along with his producer brother Warrington Hudlin (making the big jump here from low-budget “House Party” to major studio filmmaking) handles individual scenes well but misses the big picture.
“Boomerang” never questions its characters’ values, seemingly torn from a glossy magazine: sex, glamor and moving up the corporate ladder.
Creativity is either mocked, as in the grotesque TV commercials directed by Murphy’s associate Geoffrey Holder, or co-opted, as when artist Berry uses her drawings for marketing campaigns to become Murphy’s equal at a rival cosmetics firm.
The film might have worked if the thoroughly selfish characters were striving after something. Settling down in “meaningful relationships” or marriage is a pretty lame script device to resolve their infantile conflicts.
Though set in contemporary Manhattan, the picture’s iconography is a fantasy world almost on the level of Philip Wylie’s “The Disappearance.” Redressing the traditional Hollywood formula, the white characters (instead of the blacks) are in menial positions for comic relief, e.g., a silly waitress, a bigoted clothing store clerk and muscular slaves pulling supermodel Grace Jones’ chariot.
Whites appear briefly in positions of power, in high-level executive meetings or as the comical French owners of Murphy’s firm, but they’re strictly absentee landlords.
Murphy’s funny scenes — notably simulating an orgasm in bed with Givens — can’t mask his smug, taking-it-easy performance in one of those roles where one’s hair is never mussed.
Supporting cast is strong: Givens is very convincing in the Rosalind Russell role; Berry is alluring throughout. Murphy’s inevitable sexist buddies David Alan Grier (the nerd) and Martin Lawrence (the stereotyped militant) are funny sidekicks.
Scene stealers include the arch aide-de-camp Holder; John Witherspoon, hilarious as Grier’s embarrassingly coarse dad; Grace Jones, perfectly vulgar as the fragrance model; and a game Eartha Kitt as the company figurehead who takes Murphy to bed. Wisecracking Tisha Campbell gets in her licks as the star’s ex-girlfriend who lives next door.
Costume designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuck and the rest of the crew have fashioned a wish-fulfillment context that is escapist par excellence.
Editing is inconsistent, with early scenes running too long and many truncated in the last half. At 118 minutes, the episodic film might profitably have dropped a full reel.