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‘Raw’ (R)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 19, 1987

Eddie Murphy is "Raw." For the most part, he's also pretty funny in the new film of the same name.

Is this concert film different from any other concert film built around a stand-up comedian? Yes, but mostly no. When you come down to it, there's not really a whole lot director Robert Townsend ("Hollywood Shuffle") can do beyond orchestrating the six camera angles and choosing between motor-mouth head shots and full-body shots where the body English needs no subtitles.

Sure, there's a sweetly constructed scenario at the beginning that posits little Eddie Murphy shocking the family Christmas gathering back in 1968 with a typical childish gross-out joke, but for the most part, "Raw" is Murphy playing out his adult comedy for the full house at New York's Felt Forum.

Mercifully, the audience makes only a brief appearance at the beginning of the film and then disappears, leaving only a laugh track that will quickly be overcome by loud chortles, snickers, guffaws, shrieks, giggles and titters in movie theaters around the country, judging from a matinee yesterday.

Much of this R-rated film's material will be familiar to those who saw Murphy during a string of recent concerts: his dead-on impression of Bill Cosby moralizing about Murphy's scatalogical inclinations, Johnny Carson's divorce, Eddie's fantasy marriages and the perils of alimony, women of the '80s whose motto is "what have you done for me lately?," married men as unfaithful dogs and the sweet sexual revenges afforded women. Of course, Murphy's language is a lot bluer than such a gray summing-up suggests.

Other points of departure include white dancers, Italian stallions, the difference between Big Macs and Homeburgers, and a disco brawl in which everyone ends up suing Murphy.

The film ends with a surprisingly charming re-creation of a drunken father vainly trying to assert his authority over his feisty family, all the while reminiscing about his own childhood (his family was so poor they had to eat toys) and trying to make points by breaking into snatches of seemingly appropriate Motown songs (only to have them slip away into silliness). It's a softer, more sentimental terrain that Murphy seldom explores. He really ought to.

On the big screen, and particularly in the close-ups, it's not hard to see why Murphy's the current box office champ. He may have an adult's vocabulary, but he's still got a kid's frenetic energy and a wildly elastic face that demands both laughter and attention. His material, which trades on racial and sexual stereotypes even as it skewers them, may be offensive to some, but for others he remains a hell of a good yuck.

"Raw" is rated R and contains an unending stream of obscenities.

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