In 1984, Eddie Murphy ended up being the king of the box office. The December release of Beverly Hills Cop eventually managed to nudge out Ghostbusters as the biggest moneymaker of the year. But Murphy had appeared in another film in 1984. Released in the summer, it was actually a starring vehicle for Dudley Moore, but featured Murphy as a “Strategic Guest Star.” In actuality, Murphy’s part was added to the film after disastrous test screenings. From director Willard Hyuck, who two years would grace the world with a little film called Howard the Duck, it’s Best Defense.
Moore plays Wylie Cooper, a schlep of an engineer working for a fledgling weapons manufacturer currently working out of a run-down bowling alley. His life is a disaster, his home is in a slum, his marriage to his wife Laura (Kate Capshaw) is falling apart, and he is in danger of losing his job at any moment. For some reason, though, the company is counting on him to deliver a fantastic new guidance system to be installed in tanks that will save the company. A disastrous test, however, does not provide much hope. While drinking away his sorrows, however, a strange scientist (Tom Noonan) slips Wiley a floppy disk that he later discovers has plans for a guidance system on it. The scientist later ends up dead at the hands of a KGB agent (David Rasche) who is out to get his hands on the design.
When Wiley’s coworkers see the plans on his computer they naturally assume they are his. They are sure it will save the company and he soon is treated as royalty. His sexy supervisor (Helen Shaver) even starts to come on to him. Soon, though, it becomes clear to Wiley that the new system is doomed to fail disastrously. But with the company only thinking of the money, his warnings go unheeded.
Now, you’re probably wondering where Murphy fits in. Murphy plays an army tank driver named Lt. Landry. His story actually takes place two years after Wiley’s, but the film cuts back and forth between the two. He is driving the tank that contains Wiley’s guidance system during a test in Kuwait. Malfunctions end up sending him in the wrong direction and before he knows it he has landed in the middle of a battle as Kuwait has been invaded by…Iraq. Yep, this film predicted the Gulf War six years before it happened. Murphy and Moore never appear on screen together.
It is very obvious that Murphy’s scenes were tacked onto the film as a last-ditch effort to try and salvage this utter mess of a movie. Murphy himself admitted that he thought the script was terrible and only agreed to do it because Paramount threw a bunch a money at him. Murphy at least manages to squeeze a few chuckles out of the audience. For the most part, though, he’s trapped inside the cramped quarters of tank, with only two mildly offensive middle eastern characters to interact with. The opportunities for humor just aren’t there.
For Moore it’s even worse. We don’t get the happy-go-lucky likeable little British guy we’re used to seeing from Moore. His character is utterly repellent. He’s lazy, he’s a liar, and sexual harassment in the workplace seems to be a preferred hobby of his. I just can’t imagine how anyone involved in the making of this film could’ve thought for even a microsecond that this is a character that the audience would want to root for.
The biggest kicker of this whole mess is that the film sure seems to think very highly of itself. The whole time I’m watching this and reeling over how not a shred of it is funny, the movie seems to puff up its chest and think it’s making some sort of deep comedic commentary on the nature of war. After this how could anyone have been surprised by what happened with Howard the Duck. That ended up being the last film Hyuck would direct. It should have ended right here!