The Distinguished Gentleman
Directed by Jonathan Lynn. Starring Eddie Murphy, Lane Smith, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Joe Don Baker, Victoria Rowell, Grant Shaud. (1992, R, 112 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 11, 1992
There's something fundamentally unholy about a film whose press release calls Eddie Murphy the Jimmy Stewart of the Nineties. Granted, The Distinguished Gentleman plays as sort of a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in reverse, but the Murphy/Stewart connection is still one of the most enigmatic leaps I've ever heard. Since his heyday in the early Eighties with comedies such as Trading Places and 48HRS., Murphy seems to have lost -- or at least momentarily misplaced -- his career momentum. Critical and box-office claymores like The Golden Child, Harlem Nights, Another 48 HRS., and last year's Boomerang make you stop and wonder if Murphy even has a clue as to how he might resurrect his talents. Watching SNL reruns proves beyond a doubt that this is one very, very talented comedian, but it seems these days as if he's only going through the motions, rolling his eyes, flashing his pearly grin, and barking that horsey laugh. I mean, c'mon, it was funny the first few years, but it's been over a decade now and we're still getting the same old schtick. The Distinguished Gentleman gives us Eddie the small-time con man who manages to scam his way into Congress on name recognition only (his character holds the dubious honor of having the same name -- Jeff Johnson -- as his recently deceased predecessor). Once in the nation's capital, his finds he can pull an obscene number of mammoth cons legally, until his heart is put back in the right place by a little girl with cancer and a fighting, young, pro bono lawyer with endless gams. Smacks of originality, doesn't it? Director Lynn (Clue) hurls lofty ideals in our faces like they were so many haybales, and tries his damnedest to make congressional reps out to be the scurrilous dogs they so often are. Unfortunately, the film rests heavily on the shoulders of Murphy, who seems to wander aimlessly from scene to scene, searching for a laugh. The joke's on him, though: There are none.