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A Thousand Words

March 16, 2012

I had such hopes when Tower Heist came out that we were in for a return to the old Eddie Murphy. No such luck; A Thousand Words brings us another toothless, supposedly family-friendly schtick-fest. And the worst part is that we’ve seen this before, albeit with lower-brow humor. Jim Carrey’s Liar Liar had almost the same basic premise, and it was tired then. But what can we really expect from the writer of Jack and Jill, and the director of two of Murphy’s worst — Norbit and Meet Dave?

This time Jack McCall (Murphy) is a fast-talking literary agent in Los Angeles who sets his sights on a rising celeb-guru Dr. Sinja (Cliff Curtis) and his new self-help text. One thing leads to another, and Jack finds his fate mysteriously entangled with a magic ficus in his backyard which loses a leaf for every word he speaks, writes, or even signs. Dr. Sinja intimates that when a tree loses all its leaves it dies, and so will Jack.

Except it doesn’t. Even evergreen species of ficus lose their leaves after they die, not as a cause of it; trees can and do grow new leaves all the time. And the rules themselves are inconsistent; flipping the bird drops two leaves, but indicating the number three with fingers doesn’t have an effect. Still, coherent or not the upshot is that Jack must avoid speaking until he can get to the bottom of just what’s going on, lest he die.

Naturally, this causes difficulties in his already strained marriage to Caroline (Kerry Washington), not to mention making him look foolish in front of boss (Allison Janney) and subordinate (Clark Duke) alike. Dr. Sinja’s new-age woo-woo tells us that happiness is found in silence and calm, and it’s hard to disagree that Jack would do well with more of both.

But what’s really so wrong abut him? Yes, he’s high-strung and self-involved and could use a little deflation, but it’s hard to see any malfeasance on Jack’s part beyond fast-talking his way to the front of the line at Starbucks. This punishment is far from fitting the crime, which kneecaps any useful moral, and all we’re left with is Eddie Murphy’s antics that get very old, very quickly. If we want to get Eddie Murphy acting stoned in public; introduce it with a throwaway line by his gardener to an assistant about how this stuff they’re about to spray the tree with will get you high. This is about the level of the writing — not so much a plot as a sequence of excuses for one Eddie Murphy bit after another.

Which wouldn’t be such a bad thing if only they were good Eddie Murphy bits! It wouldn’t be unfair to say that the same description holds for Beverly Hills Cop, but the bits he did way back then were actually funny. And these just aren’t. Maybe it’s true that The Nutty Professor was intended a coded exorcism of the old Eddie — an Eddie who clawed his way out for a brief moment late last year, but one that for some reason he doesn’t want around anymore.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Hunt permalink
    March 19, 2012 05:47

    Sounds like a comedy in the vein of Groundhog Day, one of Murray’s best: supernatural punishment for being obnoxious. Or, like you say the one (or was it two or three?) that Carrey made. It’s a formula that’s pretty hard to screw up, since the audience, coming off a work week, are already cued for it, but it sounds like they managed to.

  2. john permalink
    March 20, 2012 03:11

    any idea what the name of the song was that they used when he started correcting his ife? The one where he visits his mom on her b-day?

  3. March 20, 2012 06:22

    I’d probably recognize it if I heard it again but I honestly can’t remember what was playing at the time. Chalk it up to repression.

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