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Eddie Murphy continues his dispiriting career slide with A Thousand Words, directed Brian Robbins, with whom he collaborated on such equally misbegotten efforts as Meet Dave and Norbit. This long-delayed, purported comedy — it’s been on the shelf for close to four years — is the latest example of how the talented performer’s poor choice of material continually undercuts him.
Murphy plays Jack McCall, a self-absorbed, sleazebag agent — seemingly the only kind that exists, according to Hollywood. A literary agent who doesn’t bother to read books, the role is one that the actor presumably prepared for Method-style, since he clearly didn’t bother to read the script.
In between ignoring his wife (Kerry Washington) and abusing his long-suffering assistant (Clark Duke), Jack attempts to sign a Deepak Chopra-like spiritual guru, Dr. Sinja (Cliff Curtis), unaware that his much-anticipated book is a mere five pages long.
In the process of using his usual slick patter to woo Dr. Sinja, who’s clearly aware of his tricks, Jack cuts himself on a tree that later magically springs up in his backyard garden. He soon finds out that a leaf falls off for every word he speaks or writes, and when it’s finally barren, he dies.
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Dr. Sinja advises him to simply stop speaking for a few days until a solution can be found. But that would have made for a much shorter film. So Jack instead attempts to go about his daily business — which includes such high-pressure situations as singing at his child’s playgroup — by using a combination of mimed gestures and animalistic grunts. Faced with a problem afflicting any number of people who suffer from a temporary bout of laryngitis, he quickly manages to lose his job and alienate everyone in his life. That is, until he has a spiritual conversion and becomes, you guessed it, a better man.
Murphy certainly can’t be accused of walking through the film. He puts great effort into this feature-length version of charades, with his wild gesticulations and constant mugging occasionally scoring mild laughs. But the formulaic script by Steve Koren doesn’t manage to exploit the absurd premise with any discernible wit or invention, and the star is left floundering.
As the baby-faced assistant whose every attempt to be helpful backfires, Duke fairly steals the film right out from under Murphy, though admittedly the crime is little more than a misdemeanor. Curtis is drolly amusing as the guru, but Washington and Allison Janney have little to contribute in their supporting roles, and the great Ruby Dee is wasted as Jack’s dementia-addled mother, who figures in a would-be touching subplot.
Among the film’s many producers is Nicolas Cage. How he managed to dodge the bullet of starring in it is anybody’s guess.
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