I think the only Eddie Murphy movie I’ve seen in the new millennium is Dreamgirls, which doesn’t really count. Perhaps I should pay more attention to the Murphy’s I’ve been skipping, because they all sound like variants of the same I-don’t-want-to-be-Eddie-Murphy concept that might make them resemble late-Jerry-Lewis vanity projects. Case in point: A Thousand Words, a textbook example of the fable of self-hating success that Hollywood spits out in a committee-driven dream where narcissism meets narcolepsy. Shot mostly in 2008, it opened briefly to audience disinterest and critical hostility this year.
Murphy plays a hotshot agent with a fabulous house and gorgeous wife, which means he needs to be taken down a peg or five. Although this movie is so full of vulgarities and sex jokes that many parents would be embarrassed around their children, it presents a vision of the grown-up world that’s strictly for kids, with business meetings that are even more surreal and nonsensical than all the stuff about the magic tree in the backyard that loses leaves every time Murphy speaks a word. In what universe would boss Allison Janney allow a drunk and delirious employee to stuff fries up her nose while she’s talking to big clients? It’s possible I’d have enjoyed these grating antics when I was eight, although even then I’d have found the troubled-marriage stuff as tiresome as I do now.
But wait—I’m a sucker for the theme of parent/child relations, especially fraught fantasies of reconciliation. How big a sucker? When the last third concentrates on the untrammeled sentimentality of Murphy “becoming his father” and looking inward and dealing with his anger and his inner child and his inner dad, and pays off the subplot of his dementia-struck mother (Ruby Dee), I found this movie, yes, magical and moving. Why did I sit through all the shiny surfaces and dumb humor to get that far? I kept having the nagging feeling it was getting somewhere, and it did. You can quote me. And I’ll deny it. Maybe.
If the first two acts rate a two and the final act a seven, that averages to three. Math is fun!