If there’s one thing that the late comedian Charlie Murphy got a chance to do that his more famous sibling Eddie hasn’t done yet, it is collaborate with Spike Lee.
Spike’s dumb ass, due to his ability to pick feuds and start fights (see: Tyler Perry), behaved as if Eddie owed it to him to be in one of his movies (my interpretation) and because of that, Eddie was like, “Nah. I’ll direct my own shit,” hence the God-awful dreck that was Harlem Nights which also was, coincidentally enough, brother Charlie’s big screen debut.
Still, Spike’s a fine filmmaker; behind Woody Allen and Tarantino, my 3rd favorite, and if he’s ever made an undeniable great movie – and in my opinion, Inside Man and Jungle Fever both have arguments – Mo’ Better Blues was probably it.
Make no mistake tho, the cast supports the bulk of the greatness.
My father liked to say that his father would ask when asked if he wanted to see a movie “Who’s in it?” having determined in advance that certain actors were either above making bad movies or, like great athletes, raised the caliber of movies that would have otherwise been bad without their presence.
I am certainly my grandfather’s grandson.
With perhaps the closest thing to a Black all-star cast ever, if you play the game of associating each face you see on screen with the movie you’ve seen that they’re most famous for, the connections to Mo’ Better Blues are mind-blowing.
Two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington is the star, for me, his best work, despite not getting an Oscar, coming in Philadelphia.
Then there’s Wesley Snipes; for most, Blade, for me, New Jack City.
Giancarlo Esposito checks in from The Usual Suspects.
Of course there’s Sam Jackson of Pulp Fiction fame.
Spike’s sister, Joie Lee, of Coffee and Cigarettes.
Genius-level comedian, the late, great Robin Harris checks in from House Party.
John Tutorro comes through from Hannah and Her Sisters.
Hate to use another Spike Lee movie in the game but who doesn’t think of Do the Right Thing when they think of Bill Nunn?
Steven White was sitting on the train while Eddie renounced his throne in Coming to America.
Leonard Thomas caught a bad one in King of New York.
And the immortal Dick Anthony Williams; Pretty “When I get a bitch/I got a bitch” Tony, of none other than, of course, The Mack, played Denzel’s dad.
Charlie himself, “Eggy” in Mo’ Better Blues, would go on to most famously play “Gusto” the real gangster that Chris Rock as a fake-gangster rapper rips off for his name and life story in the movie CB4.
And, of course, Charlie, apparent master of reinvention, would reintroduce himself to a whole new cult of fans in perhaps the most famous sketch in sketch comedy history, playing himself, as foil, on the Chappelle Show against Dave Chappelle’s violent, misogynist, coked-out, psychotic and hilarious Rick James.
Put simply, there are times when the relatives of famous people tag along and gain fame that they are under no other circumstances worthy (entire Bush family, anyone?)
Yet there are other times, like, say, the Manning brothers, Beyonce and Solange and maybe – and this is a stretch – maybe the Kennedys, that the lead family member’s introduction to celebrity clears the path to a well-deserving second clan member.
Charlie Murphy was certainly of those latter circumstances.