Boomerang

Eddie Murphy is having an orgasm — the aaaoooo-gaaah kind that even makes his toes look ready for liftoff. The willing woman in his bed straddles him. But she barely matters, except to stoke his pleasure. Murphy tells her when to grind her butt and when to keep it still. And when he's done, it's the audience that gets his conspiratorial grin, not her. In this movie what counts is what's good for Eddie.

The buzz on Boomerang was that Murphy wanted to make amends for the relentless misogyny of his recent movies. He bedded Jasmine Guy and then blew her brains out in the loathsome Harlem Nights. Bare-breasted beauties competed to wash his privates in Coming to America. And in his concert film Raw, Murphy railed against a plague of "bitches."

Murphy himself had the idea for Boomerang. His character, Marcus Graham, is a New York marketing exec and playboy who gets his comeuppance from Jacqueline Broyer (Robin Givens), an even savvier exec who treats Marcus as exploitatively as he treats women. The rolereversal concept is promising, as is the participation of writer-director Reginald Hudlin and his producer brother, Warrington. Two years ago, in their sharply comic debut feature, House Party, the Hudlins created strong woman characters to puncture male sexual attitudes and arrogance.

But Reginald Hudlin did not write the script for Boomerang; that assignment went to Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield — two old hands from Murphy's Saturday Night Live days who know the master always gets the last laugh.

As for the feminist-revenge angle, it barely registers. Jacqueline gives Marcus a few bad moments (she shows up late for dates, ignores him to watch sports on TV and won't commit emotionally). But Marcus has Angela (Halle Berry), a nicegirl art director, to fall back on. In the film's terms, he's trading in the whore for the madonna. This movie seems to be saying that it's okay to spend two hours demeaning women as long as you acknowledge you're rotten before the fade-out. And anyway, isn't it all in fun?

The hell it is. Boomerang is hypocrisy in action. The film begins with Marcus reviewing a cosmetics commercial shot by Nelson (Geoffrey Holder), a director fond of filming female mouths sucking cherries and other succulent fruits. "Lose the banana — it's too overt," says Marcus, but not before we get to ogle the action. To earn points on the job, Marcus offers his stud services to Lady Eloise (Eartha Kitt), the aging sexpot who lends her name to the company's makeup products. The legendary Kitt, brutally photographed by Woody Omens, strips to her skivvies and drags Marcus into bed while he begs her to turn off the light so he doesn't have to see what he's fucking.

Grace Jones has it even worse. Playing Strangé, a model for whom Marcus's company is devising a fragrance of the same name, Jones demands that the scent be the "essence of sex." When a technician fails to satisfy her, she removes her panties, shoves the garment in his face and tells him that's what sex should smell like. Nelson shoots a commercial in which Strangé gives birth to a perfume bottle through her "steel vagina." In a scraping-bottom scene, Strangé comes on to Marcus at dinner by hiking up her dress, spreading her legs and asking. "How can you turn down this pussy?"

Actually, Marcus — who can't bear physical imperfection in any woman he screws with the lights on — is a leg man. Spike-heeled Christie (Lela Rochon) seems to fit the bill, but the next morning he recoils in horror from the sight of the corns and calluses on her hammertoes. His buddies — high-strung Tyler (Martin Lawrence) and shy guy Gerard (David Alan Grier) — are both losets in love who can't believe how Marcus fusses while they're begging for crumbs. "You're not fucking her feet, man," says Tyler.

Marcus finds his match and the perfect tootsies in Jacqueline; she schedules sex with Marcus like business meetings. Givens (A Rage in Harlem), a beauty who radiates intelligence, almost redeems her role with a sly wit that the film is otherwise lacking. But the script shortchanges her, even in delineating her friendship with Angela. Conversation between the two women is exclusively concerned with Marcus; while Jacqueline raves about his ass, Angela pines away in envy.

Perry, so good as the crack addict in Jungle Fever, is saddled with the sappiest role. Virtuous, compliant and family oriented, she's just the thing for Marcus when he's ready to make love instead of doing the nasty. While the film basks in Marcus's sexuality, it recoils from Jacqueline's.

It's difficult to imagine that this sexist tripe is coming from the Hudlin brothers, who exploded ugly stereotypes in "House Party." Sadly, it's easy to imagine it coming from Murphy, a rare talent who's been squandering his gifts for years now. The comic spontaneity he demonstrated in 48 Hrs., Trading Places and the sweeter moments of Coming to America has been replaced with a smug complacency. His onscreen rapport with Nick Nolte, Dan Aykroyd and Arsenio Hall has given way to grandstanding. Boomerang is about Murphy getting his. He's reveling in the behavior he's supposed to be satirizing.

Murphy is performing in a vacuum these days. Writers, directors and costars have only one duty in a Murphy movie: to fawn. For all the sex talk in Boomerang, there's very little nudity. The only thing naked is Murphy's vanity. He wows every woman and one-ups every man. The only question is how long it will be before audiences tune out. What Murphy's doing isn't acting; it's masturbation.

From The Archives Issue 287: March 22, 1979