The Golden Child (1986) / Comedy-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, scary images, sexual humor, language and brief nudity
Running Time: 94 min.

Cast: Eddie Murphy, Charlotte Lewis, Charles Dance, J.L. Reate, Victor Wong, James Hong, Randall 'Tex' Cobb
Director: Michael Ritchie

Screenplay: Dennis Feldman
Review published May 5, 2007

The Golden Child is said to have been originally conceived of as a more serious adventure, intended to star Mel Gibson, but those plans fell through.  When Eddie Murphy (Beverly Hills Cop, Trading Places) became available, the project changed from a spiritual adventure film to an action-comedy, with each scene reconstructed in order to play more for laughs than for drama or awe.  Murphy was also given a liberal amount of leeway to ad-lib his lines whenever appropriate, which pretty much meant all of the time.  Luckily, for the makers of the film, Eddie Murphy is a gifted on-the-spot comedian, as he is by far the best element of this rather routine, uninspiring fantasy adventure.

When a young boy (Reate, a girl in real life) is taken from a secret Tibetan monastery, an all-out international search goes out to find him.  You see, the boy is no ordinary boy -- he is the long-awaited second "Golden Child", he has come to make the world a better, more humane place.  The abductor of the child is one of the Devil's minions, a powerful demon posing as a man, Sardo Numspa (Dance, Alien 3), who proceeds to try to corrupt the child and destroy his powers to do good.  Meanwhile, the monastery sends one of its agents, a skilled martial artist and priestess named Kee Nang (Lewis, Storyville), to find a man rumored to be the "Chosen One", who must overcome many trials to gain back the Golden Child.  That man is Los Angeles youth-oriented social worker and finder of lost children Chandler Jarrell (Murphy), whose demeanor isn't the stuff of great prophecy -- he's a potty-mouthed smart aleck.  With almost no time to spare, Chandler must perform a series of tasks in order to rescue the child from the clutches of Numspa himself -- easy as pie (not) -- only the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

I think that there are probably two sets of people that would choose to watch The Golden Child.  The first, and probably the largest set is the crowd that comes in just to watch Eddie Murphy in action, hoping he'll make them laugh.  The second, smaller set is the action-fantasy lovers looking to see a well-told tale of adventure and mysticism.  It's pretty safe to say that if you belong to the first set, you're far more likely to enjoy the film than the second, as this is definitely a film aiming more for Eddie's fan base, not particularly concerned with its story or plot elements when they get in the way of allowing Eddie to do his thing in front of the camera. 

Cutting down to the chase, The Golden Child is one of those films that could have been respectable if they didn't stick in the world's hottest comedian into it, whose fans are going to expect constant wisecracks and irreverence, doing just what he did for another film originally meant to be serious, Murphy's superstar-making Beverly Hills Cop.  Thankfully, once Murphy was on board, at least the producers had the wisdom to allow him to give his fans exactly what they paid to see.

The Golden Child is a very cheesy post-Temple of Doom adventure that falls apart whenever you begin to take it seriously.  For the most part, it is a critical failure as a film for the reason that it occasionally makes its own mistake of doing just that, taking itself seriously, particularly as the film gets into the climax where Sardo Numspa goes into full demon mode and wreaks havoc in an effort to get the child at any cost.  It also doesn't help that the film seems conflicted in its aim to be a family-friendly adventure, while also allowing Eddie to spout of constant vulgarities (this is probably the film that has the most liberal use of the word "ass" that I can think of) and also elude to wanting to bed the lovely Kee Nang at every available opportunity alone. 

Here is the part where I have to admit to readers that I consider The Golden Child to be one of my guiltiest of pleasures -- a movie I know is bad, but somehow I find it entertaining to an extent that I'm actually somewhat embarrassed to admit liking it.  While the main plot is practically worthless (Numspa's henchmen in particular are too silly-looking to find menacing), Murphy consistently makes me laugh time and time again.  From a performance standpoint, it's hard to describe into words just why Murphy makes it funny, but suffice it to say, he never bothers to take any of the story seriously enough to care, riffing and reacting to his surroundings, always in tune with who his persona is, and never seeming desperate to inject laughs. 

He knows exactly the funniest way to say things.  For instance, a scene where Murphy is in the monastery asking the high priest for a legendary knife merely asks him to say, "I want the knife.", which he does, saying just that.  However, the fact that he is somewhat desecrating centuries-old customs and religious rituals by asking is such a semi-mocking tone (he must spin a wheel-like portion of the entrance pillar to talk, which he proceeds to use as a hip hop DJ would a vinyl record) turns a simple request into one of the film's hilarious highlights.  When his joke doesn't go over well, he follows it up by trying to take it more seriously, but so seriously it is also just as funny, as he makes a big to-do of it, holding his arms high in the air and affecting a mocking reverential tone to ask for the knife as he spins the prayer wheel -- then spins it one more time to add the word, "Please."  Murphy is in the zone, at the peak of his improvisational prowess, playing completely to the audience that know his style well, and he delivers.

It probably goes without saying that if you don't find Eddie Murphy funny, you'll absolutely detest The Golden Child.  This is a film that has only his comedic performance to anchor it, and if that alone doesn't bring you joy, you're going to be in for 90+ minutes of pure hell.  However, for a Murphy fan, like myself, it's fun to watch him injected into a bad movie and completely make fun of it from the inside out.  As long as you take the film as seriously as Eddie, i.e., not at all, he'll safely guide you through the story's pitfalls, just like a Chosen One should.

Qwipster's rating

©2007 Vince Leo