A film review by Craig J. Koban March 20, 2012
A THOUSAND WORDS
2012, PG, 91 mins.
2012, PG, 91 mins.
Jack McCall: Eddie Murphy /
Caroline McCall: Kerry Washington /
Aaron Wiseberger: Clark Duke /
Dr. Sinja: Cliff Curtis /
Samantha Davis: Alison Janney /
Annie McCall: Ruby Dee /
Shrink: Lou Saliba
I could very easily come up with well over a thousand ways to tell you just how terrible the new Eddie Murphy comedy A THOUSAND WORDS is, but I think I will try to spare you.
consider this: Eddie Murphy has always been considered one of the best
motor-mouths of comedy: sometimes he is uproarious when just
babbling away at a dizzying pace. His
words, choice of words, and manner of enunciating those
words are his true comic gifts. Now
comes a film like A THOUSAND WORDS that firmly believes that the best
manner to harness Murphy’s unique and often-imitated skill set is…to
have him be silent though a majority of the film.
That’s right, folks!
Just imagine the film pitch to the studio chiefs: “Let’s make a
comedy where we reduce Murphy to verbal silence nearly all the way though
it…what do ya say?” Now,
to be fair, perhaps the star thought it would be a special type of
challenge to discard his famous lightning fast verbal riffs and instead be
reduced to a silent star headlining a comedy, which would, in
turn, force him to rely on physicality to secure laughs.
I can appreciate that, but the situations that this film places
Murphy in to score big guffaws from his inability to speak are mostly
dead-on-arrival. Plus, do we seriously want to see a star like him reduced to
silence? Asking Murphy to
stay hushed in a film is like asking Jim Carrey not to make rubbery faces
and contort his body to humorous effect in a film.
See what I mean?
Murphy at least does get to
natter away as only he can in the opening sections of the film, playing a
smooth and rapid-fire talking book agent named Jack McCall, who seems to
live for scoring big game clients, making his co-workers and
underlings despise him, and his daily hit of caffeinated glory at his
local Starbucks, the later which is shown in one of the most painfully
obvious product placement shots I’ve seen (Murphy sips his latte at one
point and – while holding his Starbucks coffee up to the camera –
screams out “This coffee is incredible!”). His seems to have little time for a home life, despite
the fact that he has a loving and gorgeous wife (played by the very gorgeous
Kerry Washington) and a baby. She
thinks that he has no time for her and his child, but Jack just seems too
caught up with his vocation to care or acknowledge her concerns.
Jack’s main mission is to
nab his Holy Grail client, Dr. Sinja (Cliff Curtis, a very good actor
slumming away in this film’s dreck)
who is a New Age peace, love, and universal harmony guru that has a
book that Jack thinks could be a huge International best seller.
Jack makes a rather pathetic attempt to get to know the guru at his
commune, which the doctor can see right through.
Jack's backdoor approach does come back to haunt him, though, seeing
as he becomes the unwilling victim of a karmic curse on his soul. When he returns home later that day he sees, to his
astonishment, a magical Bodhi tree sprout right from the grown fully
formed. Here’s the kicker:
for every single word that Jack utters a leaf will fall from the tree. When all the leaves are gone then the tree will die…oh…and so
Obviously, this presents an
incredible challenge for the poor hapless Jack, considering that he’s in
a job that requires him to speak all the time.
There are a few moments of giggle-inducing inspiration here when
Jack’s problematic issue is exploited, as is the case when he has to
think on his feat and use a series of talking dolls and action figures
(ranging from the Terminator to Austin Powers to Al Pacino’s Scarface)
to respond to queries on a conference call; he also gets a nice laugh
miming how he wants extra milk in his morning Starbucks latte.
Yet, A THOUSAND WORDS is
embarrassingly short on inspired ideas when it comes to its potentially
funny premise. Instead of really going for broke with Jack’s absurd condition, the film just uses it to set up a dreadfully unfunny sight
where we see the usually hysterical Murphy cringe and whimper through them
as if he does not want to be on set.
has a relationship with his assistant (the bland and unfunny
Clarke Duke) who seems to have no problem with his boss’ sudden and
unexplained silence. He
agrees to speak for him at a very important business luncheon that
devolves in rapid succession. You
know you’re in trouble when a film solely relies on Clarke Duke to
generate laughs in the same scene that involves Eddie Murphy.
Much of the film’s premise
is only haphazardly explained and, at times, makes not a hill of beans
worth of sense. Jack is not
only unable to talk, but even if he writes a sentence to communicate
something that counts towards his deadly word count (oddly, the film never
explains whether texting would count).
Also, it’s frankly amazing how Jack simply does not feign a
sudden illness - like chronic laryngitis - to get him through the few days
thinks he cursed to endure (the film explains that Dr. Sinja has a
solution for him, but is conveniently out of town for three days, leaving
Jack stranded; he never thinks to email him…or…would that count?).
Then the film really, really strains when it comes to his
relationship with Jack's wife, who becomes really perturbed by his lack
of communication. Honestly,
couldn’t Jack spare a sentence or two to explain his situation to her
or, at the very least, take her to the tree to prove his situation?
To make matters worse there is
a monumentally misguided attempt to provide some schmaltzy tear-inducing drama into
the film, featuring – no less – Jack’s strained relationship with
his Alzheimer’s afflicted mother and sad past with his father who
abandoned him as a kid. A
THOUSAND WORDS, by this late point in the story, browbeats us with its
attempts to infuse a soul-searching pathos into Jack’s predicament
where he has to find his inner calm and contemplate a solution to not only
his problem, but with his daddy, mommy, and spousal issues.
For a film to set itself up as broad slapstick farce and then take
an absurd 180 degree tonal turn in its final act into searing drama is all kinds of
wrong here; it just rings as desperately false.
Then again, perhaps A THOUSAND
WORDS – like its main character – was doomed from the start.
The film was directed by Brian Robbins (who made one of the worst
films of the last decade in NORBIT, also
staring Murphy), was inexplicably co-produced by Nicolas Cage (whose
recent artistic choices have been dubious at best), was not given a critic
screening (typically the kiss of quality death for a film), and, worst of all, was
made way, way back in 2008 and finally and unceremoniously dumped
on our filmgoing laps this year (the studio did not so much release this
film as they just abandoned it to the muliplexes).
Considering the joy of seeing Murphy channel all of his street wise
comic instincts in what seemed like his comeback effort last year in TOWER
HEIST, it's a teeth-gratingly disappointing to see him flounder
aimlessly in a joyless and mercilessly insipid comedy like A THOUSAND
WORDS; I’m not sure that even a thousand re-writes could have saved this