Friday, July 3, 2020

Summer '92 Redux - July 3, 1992: BOOMERANG

by Adam Riske and Patrick Bromley
This is our mack daddy column in all its splendor.

Adam: Welcome back to Summer ‘92 Redux, our revisit of the Summer 1992 movie season. This week we’re discussing Boomerang from director Reginald Hudlin (House Party, The Great White Hype, The Ladies Man), which stars Eddie Murphy (who also produced), Robin Givens, Halle Berry, Grace Jones, Earth Kitt, David Alan Grier, and Martin Lawrence. Murphy plays a marketing executive for a women’s beauty company who is known around the office as a serial womanizer. He meets his match when Givens not only assumes the role Murphy thought he was entitled to, but also is aloof to his sexual advances. Boomerang is primarily a workplace comedy and an ensemble piece, which wasn’t completely new for Eddie Murphy at the time (he did this too in Coming to America), but it’s admirable how producer Murphy allows the entire cast to have moments and entire scenes without sacrificing himself as the movie star audiences wanted when they went to see Boomerang. It’s a good mix.

I remember seeing Boomerang in theaters at age 10 (Woodfield Mall, baby) and much of it going over my head. I like it much more today (it’s not a movie I’ve rewatched a ton over the years, though I’ve listened to the soundtrack many times). I really thought Murphy did a good job stretching himself as an actor being the cool romantic lead, which wasn’t something we usually saw from him up to this point (or really much after). He was usually bigger in his comedic persona character-wise prior to Boomerang and here he’s playing mostly a normal, albeit skeezy, guy. I’m stealing this from another podcast, but I heard an observation about Boomerang I liked and had in mind on this revisit. This is largely a movie about a man losing his mojo, getting crushed by a woman and then working his way back. While we’ve seen this similarly without a romantic angle in early Tom Cruise movies (as you’ve brilliantly pointed out before in movies like Top Gun and Days of Thunder, where he has to learn how to be awesome again), it’s a neat conceit for a comedy where it’s not so much about the guy getting the girl but more about the guy rehabilitating his shitty behavior. I had a lot of fun with this one. It should also be noted that this is a horror movie of workplace etiquette in 2020.

What do you think about Boomerang?
Patrick: I really like Boomerang. There are elements of it that haven’t dated well, as you point out, but that’s true of almost all of Eddie Murphy’s comedy -- there’s always going to be those pieces that are misogynist and homophobic. At least Boomerang has the good sense to write the David Alan Grier character, because he tempers some of those elements by being the most decent person in the movie.

I don’t want to get too bogged down into holding the film to 2020 standards, though. Outside of Coming to America, this is Eddie Murphy’s best romantic comedy. Maybe that’s not saying much, because it’s a genre in which he rarely ever dabbled. But Boomerang isn’t just good for an Eddie Murphy romantic comedy; it’s a good romantic comedy, period. I have seen a whole lot of romantic comedies, and it’s the very rare one that doesn’t telegraph exactly who the lead is going to end up with at the end of the film. Boomerang is one that genuinely surprised me back in 1992, and I still like the turn it takes today. There are aspects of the second half of the movie that don’t work as well as the first half (which is about as good as anything Eddie Murphy has done), much of it having to do with time being compressed to a crazy degree -- months have gone by when it seems like maybe a couple of days. But the pivot to the Halle Berry character is a good one because the movie has spent time showing us that Marcus and Angela actually get along and like each other. That kind of relationship is so often overlooked in romantic comedies, which puts two people together because they’re the stars.

I really like what you said about Eddie Murphy being deferential here. He gives everyone in the film a chance to shine, and holy shit do people shine in Boomerang. This seems like the movie that would have made a star out of Robin Givens, and the fact that it didn’t isn’t her fault. I don’t know if I’ve ever found Martin Lawrence funnier than I do here, especially in the scene where he’s teasing David Alan Grier at the gym. Grace Jones is fucking hilarious. Eartha Kitt is fucking hilarious. Chris Rock was coming up and gets some time to shine. Halle Berry was coming up and becomes a star. Eddie Murphy is one of the least funny people in the movie, but that’s kind of by design. He still makes me laugh, though, particularly when he’s just throwing away little asides that feel like ad-libs on set.

I remember feeling in 1992 like this was some kind of comeback for Eddie Murphy. Do I have that wrong?

Adam: No, you’re right. That was the narrative about this movie in 1992. The crazy thing is it’s all based on how much people didn’t like only two movies - Harlem Nights and Another 48 Hrs. I’m glad you brought up what you did about Robin Givens, because she really shines in this movie. You would think based on her performance she would have at least spent the rest of the ‘90s as a femme fatale or villainess, but I’m guessing her off-camera reputation made people shy away from her. It’s too bad. I feel like she had a lot of good performances in her that we never got to see.
I also decided on this rewatch that this is my favorite Halle Berry performance. The filmmakers give her a lot of ground to work with so she’s allowed to be the girl next door, the quirky artist, the smart/talented businesswoman, etc., and she’s great at all of it. Poor David Alan Grier. He really got hosed. That leads me to my next question for you; how is it that we still like Marcus at the end of the movie when even in the third act he’s stealing his best friend’s crush? Is it just a testament to how much we like Eddie Murphy that he’s able to get away with that?

Patrick: It’s so thrown away, too. Eddie Murphy and DAG squash things in the span of a single scene with a hug. That’s fine -- I don’t need them to fight forever -- but I think the fact that it feels rushed is once again a symptom of this movie’s problem with time. Halle Berry, on the other hand, is not letting Marcus get off light. I mean, she ultimately does because the credits need to roll, but Halle Berry really plays the anger all the way. Why was she never given the opportunity to do more light comedy? I like how she fully invests emotionally in every scene.

Adam: The part where she breaks out into speaking Korean always makes me laugh.

Patrick: I like a lot of Reginald Hudlin movies, but this feels like a movie that should have propelled him to another level of filmmaking. He should have become an A-lister after Boomerang, but instead went back to making fairly broad comedies for niche audiences.

Adam: Reginald Hudlin reminds me a bit of Ernest Dickerson, where he’s a man who can wear many hats. Hudlin wrote, directed, acted and produced for a long time on both television and film so he’s had a career with longevity, but I agree he never did anything as high-profile as Boomerang (as director) ever again. He went back to making mall movies pretty much afterwards.

One aspect I love about Boomerang is how intentionally gorgeous the aesthetics are. I read that Hudlin wanted everyone to look great, specifically the clothing. The sets/locations are impressive, the music (which we’ll get to soon) is of the moment and energetic. I read this was (at the time at least) the highest-budgeted movie ever made by a black filmmaker and cast and I love how Hudlin wanted to take the money and make the most beautiful looking movie he could make and use it as an opportunity to celebrate so many black actors, craftsmen, and musicians. This is a movie made with a lot of love, which makes me enjoy it even more.

Also, this is a romantic comedy that, I think, gets its laughs more from energy and performance than clever writing. I laughed a lot while watching Boomerang at home last weekend and it was usually how something was said (Murphy setting up John Witherspoon for comedy dunks one after the other) or someone’s reactions (Eartha Kitt’s butler laughing at Eddie Murphy during his date with her) that made me crack up the most. It’s not a movie that’s quotably funny, but it’s rewarding to see how the actors are so generous to one another in scene after scene.

One last question for you - what is your MVP from this film’s soundtrack? I’m going P.M. Dawn, with Boyz II Men a very close second.
Patrick: As we were watching the movie, I was commenting to Erika that this is not my music but that I knew you would be all about this soundtrack. Because I’m not a P.M. Dawn guy, I have to go with Boyz II Men. It’s amazing to me just how big that song was and it’s barely in the movie at all. This is a case where I really do believe the success of the song (the whole soundtrack, probably) drove the box office. I like how the end credits rush through every song on the soundtrack as one big medley.

Is this the last great Eddie Murphy star vehicle? He’s had good movies since, but they’re not the same. In something like Bowfinger, he’s more of a supporting player. In last year’s Dolemite Is My Name, he’s disappearing into a role to serve the story. Boomerang is all about Eddie Murphy just being a movie star, and he does it very well.

Adam: I would say The Nutty Professor (1996) remake is probably it. I love that performance because it’s basically a commentary on his own career. He’s tapping into his more likable movie star side while also lampooning the bravado/douchebag image he’d accrued in some of his earlier movies. Are you a fan of The Nutty Professor?

Patrick: I completely forgot The Nutty Professor, his other ‘90s comeback. He’s had a lot of comebacks, huh? I’ve only seen it once, but I don’t remember being much of a fan. I’m obviously due for a revisit.

Adam: Also opening this week (on July 1st, to be exact, along with Boomerang) was my favorite baseball movie, A League of their Own. I just rewatched it last week. It gets better every viewing. I think it’s Penny Marshall’s best movie. Lori Petty has never been better. It might be my favorite Geena Davis performance. Tom Hanks is both hilarious and sad. The music by Hans Zimmer is incredible. Bill Pullman is in it! I can’t say enough good things about A League of their Own. If you want to read more, check out my Reserved Seating column with Rob on the movie. What are your thoughts on that one?

Patrick: It might be my favorite baseball movie too, but that means a lot less coming from me than coming from you. It’s for sure Penny Marshall’s best movie and, like Boomerang, has an insane cast all doing first-rate work. I can’t believe these two movies came out the same day.

Adam: The second half of this summer rallies. Next week we’re back with one of the entries you and I have been most anticipating: the original Universal Soldier, starring Jean Claude Van-Damme and Dolph Lundgren. See you next week!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I remember seeing this on VHS on family movie night maybe 25 years ago. I understood nothing about what was happening, but def gonna seek it out tonight. This is a super fun series you guys are doing, I can't wait for the article about the Pulitzer Prize winning Universal Soldier.