The Golden Child (1986) – A Review

Eddie Murphy is the Chosen One who sets out on a mystical task to retrieve a kidnapped child. This ‘Golden Child’ is awfully special and evil Charles Dance wants to use the kid for his own nefarious plan – to end the world.

It’s up to Murphy and his wisecracking charisma to save the day!

The Golden Child came out during a period in the mid-80’s where theaters had something of mini martial arts/Asian/mysticism explosion. The Karate Kid, The Last Dragon and The Golden Child‘s closest cousin – Big Trouble in Little China, a flick much better than this one.

While it was a big hit at the time, today The Golden Child is a more interesting flick when you put it in perspective of how big a deal Eddie Murphy was at time it came out.

Eddie Murphy Golden Child 1986 comedy fantasy

Murphy was easily the biggest stars around. Having come off being one of the most popular players on Saturday Night Live, having a string of successful movies right out of the gate (48 Hrs., Trading Places). Being the sole highlight and escaping blame appearing in the bomb Best Defense. Being on fire with his standup comedy and starring in one of the most popular comedies of all time Beverly Hills Cop – a movie that managed to even outgross the mega hit Ghostbusters in 1984.

Murphy was king and could do whatever he wanted. Even releasing a musical album, something a lot of stars used to do. So, we can add that he gave us ‘Party All the Time’ to tap our toes to.

So, it’s kind of strange that he selected The Golden Child as his next venture. It was somewhat a bizarre choice. Looking at it now, it sort of signals the first misstep of movie choices that he would make down the road. 

The Golden Child is nowhere near the cataclysmic disasters he’d make much later that practically destroyed his movie career. Being given the choice between watching The Golden Child or Meet Dave or Norbit or The Adventures of Pluto Nash, I’d easily go with The Golden Child.

The movie manages to get by solely from Murphy’s charm. If you were to rip him out of this movie, stick in an actor who played it straight and all they had to entertain us with is this story – it would probably be a very grueling experience to sit through.

Murphy is really the whole hook of the movie. A fantastical adventure with Murphy cracking jokes along the way and his stunned reactions to some pretty far out stuff. And he is funny. Murphy is fun to watch and he somehow manages to play his jokes and one liners perfectly. It’s his comedic attitude, rather than the actual outrageous situations he’s being placed in that keeps things afloat. And really, none of them are all that interesting by themselves.

If I wanted to further compare them, Big Trouble in Little China had a much more interesting story, set pieces, characters and ideas filling out its wacky adventure than anything in The Golden Child. It also had Kurt Russell, whose character is a much more amusing arrogant hero who’s out of his depth in a fantasy adventure and that gag gets milked for all it’s worth.  

With Murphy here, I just think of him as being – Eddie Murphy in a bizarre movie. His character of Chandler Jarrell wouldn’t exactly make any highlight reels of his film characters. I don’t even know who Murphy is meant to be in this. I think he’s some kind of social worker, but at times he acts more like a police detective.

The stakes feel nonexistent. There’s really nothing clever about the mysticism going on or the story that’s unfolding. You’re not dazzled by the spectacular abilities of the Golden Chilid or Dance and his goons. Yeah, those henchman that hang around Dance, I can never figure out if some of them are meant to be demons or what.

The story is pretty trash. There’s nothing about it I am interested in. I don’t care about the kidnapped kid. Charles Dance plays Bad Guy 101 and Charlotte Lewis might be attractive, but that’s about the extent of her character.

Eddie Murphy comedy The Golden Child 1986

Victor Wong gets to play some lowbrow humor with his role as ‘The Old Man’. James Hong shows up and basically does virtually nothing. These two had better roles in Big Trouble in Little China.

I always forget Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb is in this. He’s one of Dance’s disciples, wears some goofy makeup and turns into the Golden Child’s ally. He’s actually part of one of the best scenes when the Child turns a Pepsi can into a stop-motion dancer. That’s one of the most memorable special effect parts in the movie. I’m sure Pepsi loved how amusing its product placement was handled in this.

Some of the scenes feel very random. Murphy breaks into some biker house to get information and gets into a scuff with them while a music video is playing on the tv.

The whole thing seems pretty pointless and the only thing I can guess is they wanted Murphy to have a fight scene and incorporate the song ‘Body Talk’ by Ratt somewhere in the movie. It would have been tough if they tried to drop that song in during the Tibet scenes.

There’s an intentionally weird dream sequence, that despite it meaning to be crazy isn’t very funny or as outlandish as it thinks it is. The best part of it I suppose is seeing Lewis in a sexy outfit tied up in toilet paper.

The only noteworthy thing that comes out from the movie is that Eddie Murphy can be funny.

I always forget that Michael Ritchie directed The Golden Child too! Ritchie proved he could direct comedies and here it seems like he decided to just sit it out and let Murphy’s wisecracks be the only thing to propel things along.

Watching this now makes me really wonder what was it about The Golden Child that Murphy was attracted to. A few years later he himself would say it was not good and it changed drastically from the original script he read.

Maybe there was something in the script early on and it just got lost once Murphy signed on. His star power shifted the focus of whatever strange adventure it originally was and they revamped things to make it more of an ‘Eddie Murphy movie’. I don’t know.

In the end, Murphy is the only thing here shining. He’s able to inject some humor into a very forgettable story and winds up being the only thing that’s entertaining to watch.

The Golden Child 1986 Eddie Murphy comedy

Despite it not being what most Murphy fans wanted to see from him at the time, The Golden Child was still a hit, but I think whatever sheen it once had got worn off a long time ago. It’s not uttered in the same breath alongside his great 1980’s highlights.

If Murphy was to learn anything from The Golden Child, it should have been he needed to select better material in his film choices and not count on himself alone making it a success.

Admittedly, I do have a slight affection for it. I remember when my friends and I going to see it opening weekend being all excited to see Murphy’s newest movie. That excitement is gone and now I just shrug my shoulders at it. I’m not sure how someone younger who wasn’t around during Murphy’s heyday would react to it. My guess is they would dismiss it pretty quickly.

It’s certainly world’s better than some of the latter movies Murphy made when it appeared his humor completely left him and he was just going through the motions, but really that’s quite faint praise.

Maybe it’s silly, but I still hold out hope one day he comes back with his old funny mode all warmed up, ready to unleash it and remind everyone just how great he once was. Even after all these ‘dry Murphy years’ I still hold out hope his triumphant return to comedy might happen one day.

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