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A Thousand Words (A PopEntertainment Movie Review)

A Thousand Words

A Thousand Words

A Thousand Words

I’m not sure when Eddie Murphy stopped caring about making good movies.  Actually, I think I do know.  In 1986, he followed up his first three wonderful films – 48 Hrs., Trading Places and the first Beverly Hills Cop, with The Golden Child, a stupid, cheesy adventure comedy that ends up to have sort of set the template for the rest of his career.  No longer would Murphy even attempt to act, from here on (with very few exceptions) he sold attitude over character, he’d phone in his performance and he’d rely on his motor mouth, grotesque humor and a vaguely mystical storyline to try to wring out laughs.

However, it’s been 26 years since The Golden Child, and in that time you can probably count the good films Murphy has made on the fingers of one hand – and at least two of those were supporting voiceover performances in animated movies.  One has to wonder how he is still working regularly, but Eddie keeps on keeping on, making movies that neither he nor the audience give a shit about.  At least he’s getting paid for them.  What’s in A Thousand Words for us?

It’s rather shocking, currently Eddie Murphy has an even worse run of bad films than the famously whorish Nicolas Cage (and, just to make A Thousand Words seem even more desperate, Cage is one of the film’s producers).  A Thousand Words is not Murphy’s worst film (that honor would still go to Norbit, Meet Dave or The Adventures of Pluto Nash) – but it is not that far off.  More amazingly, it may be the single worst concept in a Murphy film, and again that is in some very, very low company.

Because Murphy’s humor – as strained as it has been over the years – always revolved around the guy’s motor mouth.  And while his stream-of-consciousness torrent of words lost its potency about the same time that Robin Williams’ similar shtick became tiring, this is all that Murphy has in his arsenal.  So, who was the brilliant person who came up with the idea of making a movie in which Eddie Murphy can’t talk?  (That’s a rhetorical question, I know it’s screenwriter Steve Koren.)      

A Thousand Words does prove one thing, as unfunny as Murphy is with his constant harebrained riffing, he’s even less funny as a mime.

Murphy plays Jack McCall, a fast-talking literary agent who has become a huge success for being completely insincere and shallow.  The concept of the film is a real stretch, but here goes: Jack tries to sign up an extremely popular Deepak Chopra-esque new age mystic.  Somehow Jack’s blatant pandering and disbelief end up causing a magic tree to pop up (literally, it nearly explodes out of the ground) in his back yard.  Every word Jack says (or writes), a leaf falls off of the tree.  Every leaf that falls, Jack gets a bit more sick.  When all the leaves are gone, he will probably die.

Thus starts a series of poor slapstick scenes where Jack has to negotiate life with as few words as possible.  He must learn to order coffee (there is a whole hell of a lot of Starbucks product-placement here), negotiate business and save his marriage via charades.  And when he does grudgingly talk, particularly to his wife, he never says the right thing to explain his situation.

Then they pull out one of the great actresses of her generation, Ruby Dee, and give her the demeaning role of Jack’s Alzheimer’s-suffering mother.  And amazingly, she actually pulls it off.  Just through the strength of this great actress’ talent, her final scene with her son is actually rather touching, certainly more human or realistic than most anything else on screen here.

Clark Duke, who was so funny in Hot Tub Time Machine, also has some good moments as Jack’s harried assistant.

Eventually, we suppose, Jack is supposed to learn something (anything?) about life through his enforced silence – learning to listen rather than to talk.  However, the spirituality is no deeper than you could find at Whole Foods Market, it’s really just an excuse for the film.

Apparently not a good enough one, though.  A Thousand Words was originally supposed to be released in 2009, but sat on the shelf for years before getting a radical recutting and being slipped briefly into theaters, and now on video.  Weirdly, I have the feeling (and this is of course just a guess) that the more serious spiritual aspects were probably buried in this rethink, leaving a really long episode of the awkward sitcom that has become The Eddie Murphy Show.

Alex Diamond

Copyright ©2012 All rights reserved. Posted: June 26, 2012.

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