PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


That Eddie Murphy Movie Where He Doesn’t Talk: 'A Thousand Words'

We all know Eddie Murphy needs to be free to speak his mind, but that's not the downfall of this jumbled mess of a movie.

A Thousand Words

Director: Brian Robbins
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Cliff Curtis, Kerry Washington, Clark Duke, Allison Janney
Length: 91 minutes
Studio: DreamWorks SKG, Saturn Films, Varsity Pictures
Year: 2012
Distributor: Paramount
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual situations including dialogue, language and some drug-related humor
UK Release Date: 2012-07-16
US Release date: 2012-06-26

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.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.