February 01, 1988 12:00 PM

At the start of this concert film, a limo rolls up to New York’s Felt Forum, where Murphy is about to entertain a sold-out crowd. Out he steps, with his bodyguards and entourage. That throw away shot says it all. As one writer recently observed, “He’s living the Elvis life now.” And despite its stinging jokes, this movie, unobtrusively directed by Robert (Hollywood Shuffle) Townsend, is a neo-Jesus Christ Superstar, with Mr. Eddie Murphy as the self-deifying celeb. A third of the 90-minute film describes how everyone from Bill Cosby (devastatingly parodied) to Japanese tourists has been affected, influenced and/or outraged by Murphy’s caustic routines. There’s a section that portrays Murphy as a compulsive partygoer. Most of his skirmishes—with angry women, gays, Michael Jackson, Mr. T—are described as occurring at one fete or another. Some of his combat stories are funny, particularly when Murphy exercises his gift for mimicry. And when he lances the sexual hypocrisy of philandering couples, Murphy echoes the clever brutality of the subject’s master, Lenny Bruce. Stirring up the concertgoers’ suspicions about their spouses, Murphy plays a mean lago—it’s clear he can still touch a nerve when he talks about things his audience knows. (When Murphy catalogs sexual war wounds, Raw is the worst Saturday night date movie since Carnal Knowledge.) But mainly the film italicizes what a great big star E.M. is—and how isolated he has become. Has he no experiences in common with average people that he can shape, his show around anymore? Even when riffing about matrimony in more personal terms, he can compare himself only with Johnny Carson. Limo life is Murphy’s frame of reference now, and that’s dangerous for a comic. If he’s not careful, Eddie could become the Howard Hughes of stand-up. (R)

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