- The Washington Times - Friday, May 16, 2003

It’s official: Eddie Murphy has found a new niche — family comedies. The erstwhile, raunchy, stand-up comedian and “Saturday Night Live” veteran may think he can keep one foot in the gutter, with disastrous movies such as 1999’s “Life,” but strong numbers for “Daddy Day Care” may persuade Mr. Murphy otherwise.

“Daddy,” which stars the 42-year-old comedian as an unemployed corporate lackey who opens a day-care service, earned a solid $27.6 million last weekend, with a per-screen average of $8,197.

That’s the biggest opening Mr. Murphy has seen since 2001’s sequel to “Dr. Dolittle,” which kicked off with a mighty $42 million and eventually racked up $115 million.

All this, despite generally bad reviews, including one in this newspaper.

While “Daddy” didn’t knock the superhero action flick “X2” from its box-office perch, it must have Mr. Murphy thinking: “The Nutty Professor” (1996), a tad on the racy side but still a family oriented movie, grossed $270 million worldwide, resuscitating his ailing career, and every hit he has had since has been a family comedy.

There was 1998’s “Dr. Dolittle,” in which Mr. Murphy reprised the old Rex Harrison role of a veterinarian who’s able to converse with his animal patients. The hokey children’s comedy grossed more than $290 million worldwide and $144 million domestically.

In addition, the 2000 follow-up to “The Nutty Professor” — “Nutty Professor II: The Klumps” — earned a respectable $123 million.

When considering Mr. Murphy’s transition from groundbreaking, foul-mouthed comic to family friendly humorist, you could justifiably throw in the animation movie “Shrek” (2001), the $426 million megahit for which he provided the donkey character’s voice.

Compare these figures to the three lemons Mr. Murphy starred in last year — “Showtime,” “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” and “I Spy.” Forgot about them, didn’t you?

That’s probably because you never saw them: They grossed a combined $75 million.

Mr. Murphy’s consistent success with the family comedy has one movie executive predicting that the comedian is going the way of a certain actor of whom he used to do a spot-on impersonation during his early ‘80s prime.

He’s going to be “the next Bill Cosby,” Tom Sherak, a partner in Revolution Studios (which produced “Daddy Day Care” for Columbia), told Reuters news service — implying that Mr. Murphy has cleaned up his act to appeal to a broader audience.

There’s a big difference, however, between the two comedians: Mr. Murphy already had a broad audience before he started pitching wholesome comedy to families. Then he lost it.

Someone less generous might say that was because he had lost something else: his edge.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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