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A Thousand Words

Director: Brian Robbins
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Cliff Curtis, Kerry Washington, Clark Duke, Allison Janney

(DreamWorks SKG, Saturn Films, Varsity Pictures; US DVD: 26 Jun 2012; UK DVD: 16 Jul 2012)

Eddie Murphy has had a career befittingly wacky of an oddball comedian. Sadly, it’s not as vulgarly comparable to the standup who gave us Raw and Delirious, two classic routines whose impact would have been severely lessened if it met the PG-13 standards of Murphy’s late career. His latest venture isn’t as family-oriented as Dr. Doolittle, Daddy Day Care, or the Shrek franchise, but it actually may have helped if it had been.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want any more PG-Murphy. I want hard-R-Murphy. Beverly Hills Cop-Murphy. 48 Hours-Murphy. But family-Murphy is still better than lost-Murphy. No, I’m not saying I want to see J.J. Abrams direct Murphy’s next feature (though that could be cool…). I’m saying A Thousand Words doesn’t work because it doesn’t have a target audience.

In A Thousand Words, Murphy plays Jack McCall, a mega-busy book agent, husband, and new father. He runs his mouth more than anyone you’ve seen since, well, whatever character Murphy played in his last movie. Of course, his motormouth lands him in a bit of trouble after he lies to the wrong spirit guru. Thunder! Lightning! A mysterious tree grows outside his house!

It takes him a few minutes, but Jack soon realizes every time he speaks a leaf falls off the tree. If all the leaves fall of the tree, he dies. Why? Well, basically it’s a guess cooked up between Jack and the unknowing guru, Dr. Sinja (Cliff Curtis). In a panic, Jack tries to change his ways. All of them. Quickly. No more deadbeat dad. No more little white lies. No more mixed-up priorities. But he needs to do more – after all, this isn’t Groundhog Day.

Normally I wouldn’t bother with all this plot description, but A Thousand Words was trapped in distribution hell for years before being dumped on uninterested audiences last year. So no one knows what it is other than “that Eddie Murphy movie where he doesn’t talk”. It deserves the title. Whoever thought it was a good idea to shut Eddie up for 75 minutes of a 90-minute movie ought to lose money.

That’s not why the film fails, though. Murphy still manages to entertain, even without his #1 attribute. He gestures wildly and emotes furiously by contorting his face in all kinds of muscle-challenging maneuvers. He’s not as his best – he can’t be without his distinct voice – but he’s far from his worst. The same cannot be said for the rest of the movie, though.

Who knows what Steve Koren’s original script looked like, but I have to hope it wasn’t the bloated, bumpy concoction depicted by director Brian Robbins here. Both writer and director have to take the blame for failing to focus their story on a particular appreciative demographic. The film is too silly and features too many stretches of common sense for adults. Yet its middle and end are far too dark for kids. Plus, someone thought it wise to keep a few of Murphy’s sex jokes and other innuendos, hence the PG-13 rating.

What results is uneven, preposterous, and surprisingly watchable. Each little piece kind of works by itself, even when strung together they fail to cohere. A Thousand Words is, at the very least, a unique feature, and I feel like that’s what Murphy wants more than anything right now. How else do you explain Dreamgirls and his lack of upcoming family projects? I’m not sure, but we’re going to find out pretty soon when he signs or doesn’t sign on for Beverly Hills Cop 4 (right now, trending “no”).

The Blu-ray disc comes with only two special features: quite a few deleted scenes and an alternate ending. Both are like the movie itself – just a bit better than expected. The extra scenes aren’t too shabby. They’re funny enough to be included in a subpar movie like this one, but not good enough to be missed. The alternate ending is an actual alternate ending instead of the usual alternate cut. I’m not sure if it’s better, but I don’t think it’s worse.

Final tidbit – Nicolas Cage was a producer on A Thousand Words. What? How? Why? We may never know.


Extras rating:

Ben Travers is an awards season analyst and prognosticator with a devout interest in all things film & TV. Mr. Travers lives in Los Angeles as an experienced writer and filmmaker with an extensive portfolio of coverage, including thorough reporting on the Academy Awards, weekly box office reports, and more reviews written than will ever be read. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa with degrees in both journalism and cinema.

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