In Tower Heist, Eddie Murphy seemed energized and pumped and poised for a comeback. In A Thousand Words, the actor smashes all those hopes to bits. Forget it. The dream is dead. The only reason this dumb, insulting comedy won’t permanently derail Murphy’s career is that few people will ever be forced to sit through it outside of transatlantic flights and interrogation rooms at Guantanamo Bay. Why has this gifted comedian repeatedly squandered his talents on such crummy pictures? Even Adam Sandler hasn’t amassed as many bad movies as Murphy has: Holy Man, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, The Haunted Mansion, Imagine That — the list seems endless.
Maybe Murphy just doesn’t read his scripts, much like his character of Jack McCall, a fast-talking literary agent who doesn’t read manuscripts. Jack just knows how to package books so they sell. The premise of A Thousand Words — which was written by Steve Koren, who also wrote Jack and Jill, so you know what you’re in for — is that Jack must learn to be a better person after a Bodhi tree sprouts in his backyard and loses a leaf with every word he says. When the tree’s branches are bare, Jack will keel over dead.
A Thousand Words was directed by Brian Robbins, who also worked with Murphy on Norbit and Meet Dave. Suddenly, those two movies feel like career highpoints. This is the kind of crass, soulless cash-grab that has Murphy holding a Starbucks coffee cup in front of the camera while saying the line “This coffee is incredible.” This is the kind of racist, homophobic picture that makes fun of a gardener who speaks in a ridiculous accent (“Dee sprinkler ees dead, but I feex eet!”) and has a running gag about an overweight gay man trolling a hotel for casual sex.
This is the kind of colossally misguided vanity project in which the story takes a melodramatic turn, exploits Ruby Dee as an elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer’s, and concludes with a sequence in which Jack gets in touch with his inner child by chasing a boy through a field of wheat shot in golden, dreamy sunlight. I am not making any of this up. Nicolas Cage served as a producer on A Thousand Words, which makes me wonder if he considered starring in the movie himself at some point. And yet even Cage eventually passed, and he’s the guy who made Ghost Rider and The Wicker Man.
How did no one involved with this production ever stop to consider that taking Murphy’s voice away from him essentially neuters everything that makes him funny? I felt sorry for the actor while watching him mug and grunt and make googly eyes, only to be greeted by the sound of crickets chirping. The high point of the movie, for me, was when I got up from my seat and walked over to a guy who was texting in the theater and asked him to shut his phone off. A Thousand Words was filmed in 2008 but wasn’t scheduled to release until now, in order to capitalize on Murphy’s anticipated gig as host of the Academy Awards. Except he bailed on the Oscars, and we got stuck with this lousy movie.
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Kerry Washington, Cliff Curtis, Clark Duke, Allison Janney, Jack McBrayer, Ruby Dee.
Director: Brian Robbins.
Screenwriter: Steve Koren.
Producers: Nicolas Cage, Alain Chabat, Stephanie Danan.
A DreamWorks Pictures release. Running time: 82 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, adult themes. Opens Friday March 9 at area theaters.
Follow Herald Movie Critic Rene Rodriguez on Twitter at @ReneMiamiHerald