(1987)2.5Brian J. DillardLong before he became a fixture in kiddy-friendly blockbusters and endless sequels, Saturday Night Live alum Eddie Murphy was simply a comedian. This 1987 concert film, shot at New York City's Felt Forum, captures Murphy at the apex of his fame -- and, coincidentally, of his powers as a standup comedian. (Of course, he hasn't exactly been touring the comedy clubs since.) Already several years into what was then a consistently successful Hollywood career, Murphy plays the superstar exceptionally well. Clad in purple leather and playing to an adoring crowd, he spends much of Raw riffing about his recent arrival on the A-list. His routine about getting dogged out by Bill Cosby (and grousing about it with Richard Pryor) may seem designed to broadcast Murphy's place in the pantheon of great black comedians. But it's also side-splittingly funny, as are many of the profane routines that follow. At the time of Raw's release, many hands were wrung in the analysis of Murphy's material as inherently racist, homophobic, and sexist. It's up to the viewer to decide whether those charges are true, especially in light of the generations of standups who have followed. Anyway, the litmus test of a concert film isn't its political correctness, but rather its effectiveness. Raw is, above all, a supremely effective standup concert. Between the button-pushing, the scatological humor, and the Hollywood send-ups, Murphy touches on all of his typical themes. But his gentler routines about middle-class family life are just as amusing. They also help round out the reputation of an artist too often dismissed for the commercial concessions of his later career. Eddie Murphy the movie star may have sold out and never looked back, but Eddie Murphy the comedian went out on top.