Boomerang, starring Eddie Murphy as a suave buppie lady-killer who meets his match, is, make no mistake, a borderline disaster. After a promising 45 minutes, the movie melts into a gelatinous puddle of screwball incoherence — it’s the sort of ambitious misfire that leaves you bug-eyed and vaguely depressed, thinking, ”How did people this talented go this wrong?” Yet I’m convinced the original idea was terrific.
Directed by Reginald Hudlin, who made the exuberant, wisecracking House Party (1990), Boomerang is yet another attempt to rejuvenate — this time with an up-to-the-minute black spin — the heady commercial pleasures of classic Hollywood. The movie has a bright, candy-colored look and a nudge-nudge eroticism that recall the ingeniously fluffy sex comedies of the ’50s; when it works at all, it suggests a raunchy black update of something like the Rock Hudson-Doris Day Pillow Talk. And Murphy, with his quicksilver egomania, his lithe verbal aggressiveness and nearly superhuman confidence, is the perfect performer for this sort of high-powered synthetic entertainment. Few stars come close to magnetizing the camera the way he does.
So what’s the problem? Simple: In the ’50s, these movies had genuine scripts. They were packed not merely with situations but with witticisms; even when the jokes weren’t great, the performers were always up there, dueling and flirting, their personalities glinting like armor. Boomerang, on the other hand, leaves a talented cast adrift.
After too many cynical, flypaper-and-chewing-gum jobs like The Golden Child and Coming to America, Murphy, it’s clear, is trying to recustomize his image. Boomerang deliberately plays off this attempt — it’s about the Humbling of Eddie. The movie kicks off on a note of lively, disreputable farce, as Marcus Graham (Murphy), a six-figure marketing executive and Don Juan extraordinaire, comes on to a curvaceous bubblehead by pretending to be all soulful and puppy-eyed. In an even funnier scene, he allows himself to be seduced by Lady Eloise (Eartha Kitt), the shockingly hot-to-trot aging figurehead of the company that has just taken over Marcus’ firm. Kitt’s performance gives the film a freaky-deaky charge. By the time Marcus meets his new boss, Jacqueline (Robin Givens), a cat-faced beauty whose seen-it-all attitude equals his own, we’re just about grinning with pleasure, primed for the sparks — sexual and comic — to fly.
Instead, the movie goes thud. Even in the early sections, there’s something off about the pace; scenes that need to zip along have all the fizz of day-old soda pop. More than that, Boomerang is all setup and no follow-through. Marcus goes to bed with Jacqueline, decides that she’s the one, and discovers the tables have been turned. She gives him the same you’re-just-a-sex-toy treatment he has given all his forgotten conquests.
And then? Then the movie seems to go in eight directions at once. There’s no plot, no elaborate screwball mechanism by which our hero learns the error of his ways. Instead, Marcus meets Angela (Halle Berry), the company’s sweet-as-sugar art director. Berry is a sprightly actress, but she has been given no character to play. And so it almost seems a mistake — rather than an inspired romantic twist — when Marcus falls for her. The moviemakers want to redeem Eddie the arrogant stud by pairing him off with a Nice Girl. But Givens, playing the sassy executive vamp, is so much more vivid that every movie bone in your body tells you Murphy belongs with her.
Boomerang has some incidental pleasures-I enjoyed Geoffrey Holder’s demented commercials and the dirty banter of Marcus and his two buddies (David Alan Grier and Martin Lawrence). It also has its share of incidental displeasures, such as an incongruous, pull-out-the-stops sitcom episode with Grier’s horny parents. The irony is that Hudlin’s House Party, an independently financed comedy about teenagers, had the disciplined structure and whiplash cleverness an adult comedy like Boomerang cried out for. It only goes to show that even a blockbuster budget can’t buy everything. C-