A Thousand Words
Like a bad penny, Eddie Murphy is back again, in a family-friendly PG-13 comedy that nobody wants to see, playing a carbon copy of the same fast-talking cheeseball he always plays now, this time with a role that puts his famous motormouth at rest — even though nobody wants to see Murphy mime.
What happened to the Eddie that we do want to see: The brilliant, edgy wiseass with the eye of the tiger and the million-dollar smile? He's a memory, replaced by a fluffy, shrill pretender. There were flashes of the old superstar in the recent Tower Heist, but a Thousand Words finds Murphy backsliding into the same safe, surprise-free comfort zone that he's lurked in for decades. Everything here's built for ease; heck, Eddie didn't even have to leave L.A., and he's reunited with hack director Brian Robbins, who helmed a few of Eddie's recent career low points, including Norbit and Meet Dave. Thousand might be a modest improvement over those disasters, but that bar is set lower than a pole vault in Smurf Village.
Murphy plays Jack McCall, a relentless, shallow, careerist literary agent just begging to receive his karmic comeuppance from the unseen forces of movie comedy plotting. His latest conquest is a Deepak Chopra-styled new age guru Dr. Sinja, played by Maori actor Cliff Curtis, who fails to pin down an appropriate Indian accent. A book deal is struck, but it comes with the bizarre codicil of a Bodhi tree, which mystically appears in the backyard of Jack's Hollywood Hills party pad, and begins shedding leaves for every pointless word that escapes Jack's ever flapping lips. While the rules remain vague, Jack finally figures out that his health is somehow tied to the tree, and as the Bodhi starts wilting, he has to shut his mouth or go silent forever. This results in one long, elaborate game of charades, as Murphy begins bulging out his eyes, flapping his arms and mugging as if the back of the theater couldn't see him. Some of this is amusing; due to Murphy's still abundant talent, but the strain of maintaining a single joke wears him down. After exhausting attempts at comedy, A Thousand Words turns mawkish, with Jack's visits to his senile mother (Ruby Dee), fights with his exasperated wife (Kerry Washington) and, eventually, dream sequences where he chases his inner child through sun-dappled wheat fields. Seriously. Even Jim Carrey and Robin Williams would have sidestepped such sappy treacle, and considering his recent career trajectory, you'd think Eddie would too. In fairness, this one has been on the shelf for a long while, and maybe, just maybe, Eddie has learned something from all these fantasy comedies where a cynic learns to cut the crap and be himself again, or maybe, unlike his witless character, he'll read the script next time.