The Distinguished Gentleman is a 1992 American political comedy film starring Eddie Murphy. The film was directed by Jonathan Lynn. In addition to Murphy, the film stars Lane Smith, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Joe Don Baker, James Garner, Victoria Rowell, Grant Shaud, Kevin McCarthy, Charles S. Dutton, Victor Rivers, Chi McBride, Sonny Jim Gaines, and Noble Willingham.
The film's plot is centered on politics, specifically what members of Congress and lobbyists do to get what they want in Washington, D.C.
A Florida con man named Thomas Jefferson Johnson uses the passing of the longtime Congressman from his district, Jeff Johnson (who died of a heart attack while having sex with his secretary), to get elected to the United States Congress as a freshman Congressman, where the money flows from lobbyists. Omitting his first name, and abbreviating his middle name, he calls himself "Jeff" Johnson. He then manages to get on the ballot by pitching a seniors organization, the Silver Foxes, to nominate him as their candidate for office.
Once on the election ballot, he uses the dead Congressman's old campaign material and runs a low budget campaign that appeals to name recognition, figuring most people do not pay much attention and simply vote for the "name you know." He wins a slim victory and is off to Washington, a place where the "streets are lined with gold."
Initially, the lucrative donations and campaign contributions roll in, but as he learns the nature of the con game in Washington D.C., he starts to see how the greed and corruption makes it difficult to address issues such as campaign finance reform, environmental protection, and the possibility that electric power companies may have a product that is giving kids in a small town cancer.
In trying to address these issues, Congressman Johnson finds himself double-crossed by the Chairman of the Committee on Power and Industry, Rep. Dick Dodge. Johnson decides to fight back the only way he knows how: with a con. Johnson succeeds and exposes Dodge as corrupt. As the film ends, it appears likely that Johnson will be thrown out of Congress for the manner in which he was elected, but he defiantly declares, "I'm gonna run for President!" then breaking the fourth wall.Eddie Murphy as Thomas Jefferson Johnson
Lane Smith as Dick Dodge
Sheryl Lee Ralph as Miss Loretta
Joe Don Baker as Olaf Andersen
James Garner as Jeff Johnson
Victoria Rowell as Celia Kirby
Grant Shaud as Arthur Reinhardt
Kevin McCarthy as Terry Corrigan
Charles S. Dutton as Elijah Hawkins
Victor Rivers as Armando
Chi McBride as Homer
Sonny Jim Gaines as Van Dyke
Noble Willingham as Zeke Bridges
Eddie Murphy appeared in this Disney-produced film after a string of Paramount Pictures star vehicles. Bernie Weinraub, film reviewer for The New York Times, offered his opinion that Murphy wished to "move beyond the tepid material" he had been given by Paramount. Writer and producer Marty Kaplan said of Murphy's involvement "I feel like I've come close to winning the jackpot".
The film was shot at various locations in Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Maryland, and Pasadena, California.
The Distinguished Gentleman was released in December 1992 and went on to gross approximately $47 million at the domestic box office. Critical reaction to the movie however was mostly negative. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times liked the premise and what it had going for it, but criticized it for its "slow pacing", despite it being a screwball comedy. Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly called it "a sterile, joyless comedy, photographed in ugly, made-for-video close-up and featuring a farce plot so laborious it suggests John Landis on a bad day". eFilmCritic.com called it a "tepid Eddie Murphy political farce", and the film currently holds a 13% "Rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The movie won the feature film Environmental Media Award in 1993, and in 2001 the Political Film Society gave the film its special award of the year.