His distinctive laughter is the only constant in his career. The contagious guffaw, the low-throated "he he he" of Eddie Murphy has served him well ever since he first came to attention on Saturday Night Live in the early 1980s. Murphy's laugh will be heard again as the voice of the good-natured sidekick Donkey in Shrek Forever After, which opens in general release on May 21. The Shrek films, unfortunately, reflect the trajectory of Murphy's movie career as a whole: a great start, followed by a gradual decline into repetition, indifference, and a general dulling of a sharp comedic sensibility.
Dreamgirls gave him a shot at shaking off the wreckage of a long, disastrous stretch in which he played down to a juvenile audience. Following up his Academy Award-nominated turn in an dramatic musical with Norbit may have been financially rewarding, but immediately dumped him back into the lowest-common-denominator slop bucket of The Nutty Professor, Doctor Dolittle, and Daddy Day Care. (Not that dull action fare like Showtime, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, or I Spy did anything to advance his cause.)
The decade of disappointment makes his earlier triumphs stand out in sharper relief. Trading Places showcased a confident young comic actor; Beverly Hills Cop proved he could blow people away with both wisecracks and firearms; Coming to America demonstrated his versatility; Bowfinger showed he could still steal the show in a supporting role. His ambition and one-time desire to expand his range make Harlem Nights, Boomerang, and The Distinguished Gentleman stand out. His best role, however, was his very first.