Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 19, 2020)
After the massive success of 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy took the logical next step: he attempted to become a pop star. Rather than star in a film, 1985 brought How Could It Be, a dance/R&B album that sold surprisingly well.
Not that Could turned into a smash, but the album got to #26, and the single “Party All the Time” rose all the way to #2. Both evolved into punch lines eventually, but Murphy’s star burned bright enough to sell his mediocre pop tunes.
Murphy finally returned to the screen with 1986’s The Golden Child, a mix of action, fantasy and comedy. It didn’t bring the smash hit most expected.
Oh, Child didn’t flop, and with a $25 million budget, it brought a profit. However, the movie’s $79 million US fell far short of the $234 million Cop made two years earlier, and Child signaled the imminent decline of Murphy as a movie star.
In a hidden part of Tibet, a youngster known as “The Golden Child” (JL Reate) shows mystical powers. However, dark forces kill the monks who protect him and kidnap the boy.
Across the world in Los Angeles, Chandler Jarrell (Murphy) works as a detective who specializes in the rescue of missing children. When Kee Nang (Charlotte Lewis) sees Chandler on TV, she believes he can help with the return of the Golden Child.
Kee Nang tells Chandler that he is the “Chosen One” who can locate and save the Golden Child. Though skeptical, Chandler takes the case and finds himself up against deadly, magical forces.
Over other reviews, I’ve noted how Murphy’s burgeoning ego impacted his movies. Of course, his 1985 attempt at pop stardom became the first indication that Eddie might take himself Way Too Seriously, but it wouldn’t be the last.
I feel 1987’s Beverly Hills Cop II offers probably the best evidence of how success spoiled Murphy, mainly because he plays the same character there as in the 1984 Cop. It seems easy to observe the self-infatuation on display, as Axel Foley comes across as way more arrogant and smug in the sequel.
Golden Child brings a step on that egotistical journey, one that we can observe from the film’s advertisements. Right there we get told “Eddie Murphy Is the Chosen One” – what more proof do we need that Murphy started to see himself in an inflated manner?
Don’t get me wrong – obviously I don’t believe Murphy exists as the only Hollywood star who let success get to his head. However, he lost his way so quickly that he remains a textbook example, so that’s why I may pick on him.
All of this acts as prelude to state that Golden Child stinks. That’s a shame, as the movie doesn’t need to flop.
But flop it does, as Murphy seems unable to generate the charisma that made him famous. Chandler feels like a variation on Axel Foley, but a much less likable one.
Granted, Chandler doesn’t show quite the same obnoxious arrogance of Axel circa Cop 2, but he also lacks the understated charm of the 1984 Axel. The Cop 2 Axel comes across like a jerk too much of the time, and Chandler doesn’t seem as offensive.
That doesn’t make Chandler engaging, though, and Murphy seems unsure where to take the role. As a result, he relies on that old Axel magic, and it abandons him, so the movie’s attempted laugh lines seem inane and eye-rolling.
I suspect director Michael Ritchie got the gig here due to the success of 1985’s Fletch, as both films come with similarities. The two feature former Saturday Night Live stars, and they also mix comedy with detective material.
Fletch also often came across as a semi-remake of the first Beverly Hills Cop, and I suspect that offers another reason Ritchie got the job. If Ritchie could make a Murphy-style movie with Chevy Chase, why not allow him to work with the genuine article?
This doesn’t succeed, though I don’t know who to blame. My gut wants to point toward Murphy, as the fact Ritchie made a loose and fun Cop-style movie without Eddie opens up for that view.
Face it: Chevy Chase circa 1985 lacked the star power of Eddie Murphy in 1986. Despite Chase’s reputation as a difficult actor, he needed a hit in 1985, so perhaps this made him more pliable on the Fletch set.
Or maybe Chase acted like a jerk on Fletch, Murphy was a sweetheart in Child, and Ritchie just dropped the ball – who knows? I can’t help but think that Murphy’s burgeoning ego played a part.
Whatever the case, Child never finds a groove. Its comedic bits feel stale and silly, while its action/fantasy beats lack much authority.
The main problem comes from the loose way the movie connects its two sides. It doesn’t inspire confidence in either domain, and the junction fails to integrate in a coherent manner.
Perhaps if the filmmakers treated Child more as a straight fantasy or a more overtly comedic affair, it might succeed. Because no one ever commits either way, the end result feels disjointed and flat.
Child doesn’t provide Murphy’s worst film, but it does present his first major misstep as a movie actor. Dull, meandering and forgettable, the movie goes nowhere.