By Bob Tourtellotte
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Comedian Eddie Murphy, whose movies range from "Beverly Hills Cop" to voicing the smart-mouthed donkey in "Shrek," has been picked to host the Academy Awards in February for the first time in his career.
Tuesday's announcement makes Oscar organizers appear as if they are aiming for laughs in 2012, after this year's performance by co-hosts, dramatic actors Anne Hathaway and James Franco, fell flat with critics and many viewers.
The hosting job pairs Murphy, who began performing stand-up comedy at age 15 before joining TV's "Saturday Night Live," with director Brett Ratner, another Oscar first-timer best known for action movies and comedies.
Alongside Ratner's Oscar co-producer Don Mischer, the pair bring a decidedly comic edge to the show that has tried to stay relevant among young and mainstream moviegoers as its major awards in recent years primarily have gone to dramas aimed mostly at older audiences.
In a statement, Murphy said he was honored to be joining the likes of Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, Billy Crystal, Steve Martin and Whoopi Goldberg, among the many hosts of the show that next year will see its 84th edition.
"Eddie is a comedic genius, one of the greatest and most influential live performers ever," Ratner said in a statement.
"With his love of movies, history of crafting unforgettable characters and his iconic performances -- especially on stage -- I know he will bring excitement, spontaneity and tremendous heart to the show Don and I want to produce in February," he said.
The move is a distinct departure from recent years in which the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has focused on variety and elaborate song-and-dance numbers by hosts or co-hosts including Hathaway and Hugh Jackman.
For this past February's show, the producers were Mischer and Bruce Cohen, who helped bring dramas such as "American Beauty" and "Milk" to movie theaters. Last year, the producers included Adam Shankman, director of the musical "Hairspray."
By contrast, Ratner is the director of movies such as the "Rush Hour" cop series and comic book flick "X-Men: The Last Stand". He is well-known to have a knowledge and love of film history, which is why the Academy chose him and he, in turn, brought Murphy to Hollywood's biggest awards program.
"I'm looking forward to working with Brett and Don on creating a show that is enjoyable for both the fans at home and for the audience at the Kodak Theater as we all come together to celebrate and recognize the great film contributions and collaborations from the past year," Murphy said.
Murphy, 50, made his feature film debut in 1982 with the buddy comedy "48 Hrs" and went on to star in the "Beverly Hills Cop," "The Nutty Professor" and "Shrek" franchises. All told, movies in which he has performed have earned more than $7 billion at global box offices, the Academy said.
(Editing by Jill Serjeant)