Movie Review: Eddie Murphy is at a loss for laughs in “A Thousand Words”

ImageEddie Murphy finds inner piece — but precious few laughs in “A Thousand Words,” an ambitious new comedy from a guy whose ambition abandoned him sometime in the ’90s.

Unlike your average Eddie-as-Daddy farce, this one has heart, genuinely emotional moments and a message. But the veteran funnyman lets us see the panic in his eyes as he mugs all manner of faces, sings and croons his own sound effects in an effort not to speak, not to use up the last thousand words he has before he dies. It’s as if he realized — late in the game — that he had signed on for something different, that this wasn’t his version of “Liar Liar,” or a far more sophisticated “Imagine That.”

Murphy plays Jack McCall, a dapper Hollywood literary agent with the trophy job, the trophy car, the trophy house, high on a ridge, and a trophy wife (Kerry Washington) and child, to boot. He owes it all to his manic patter, his ability to bluster his way to any deal

“Learn to speak your mind, but do it QUICKLY,” he tells his assistant/protege (Clark Duke). “I can talk anybody into doing ANYTHING.”

His latest planned coup? Signing a wildly popular New Age guru whose book is sure to be a global best seller. But Dr. Sinja — played as an unnerving blend of Deepak Chopra and Werner Herzog calm by Cliff Curtis — isn’t an easy sell. Jack is a raging sea of flattery, bull and little white lies dashing up against Dr. Sinja’s placid and immovable rocky shore. Jack makes his deal, but offends a magical bodhi tree in Sinja’s compound. The tree magically pops up in Jack’s yard, and with every utterance, it loses leaves. When it’s out of leaves, Jack is out of time. He will die.

“It seems like all your talking is making you sick.”

Hollywood’s well-documented sympathy for New Age gurus and self-made huxters means that Sinja isn’t written as a villain, merely a sage counsel to the hero. “Our words have a profound rippling effect on the whole universe,” he says. “In quiet, there is truth.”

Jack, Sinja teaches, is making his last journey, learning that one big life lesson. He’d better make his peace with his lifestyle, his unhappy wife, his mom who has Alzheimer’s, played by Ruby Dee in a performance so real and heartfelt that she shakes the whole movie up around her.

Screenwriter Steve Koren gave us “Bruce Almighty” and “Evan Almighty,” so he’s going to get the mystical/spiritual side of the movie right. But he and director Brian Robbins (“Meet Dave,” “Norbit”) completely botch the set-up. Jack doesn’t earn this fate. Maybe Murphy rubbed what little edge the guy had off to make him “nice,” but talking fast and playing loose with the truth hardly seem like death-by-Bodhi Tree offenses.

The early acts should play broad and funny, but Murphy’s efforts at Starbucks Charades (he has to pantomime his order at the notoriously complicated coffeehouse), at resisting business conversations that will save his job, as resisting his wife when she pleads “Talk DIRTY to me, Jack!” fall flat.

Clark Duke, of “Kick Ass” and “Hot Tub Time Machine,” registers as an insecure would-be agent who thinks the secret to success is talking just like Jack — all jive and profane patter.

But Murphy, without the words to go along with his bug-eyed double-takes and the many faces he makes, is lost here. the only lesson he learns on this spiritual journey is why he could never have starred in “The Artist.” He’s never been a silent comic, and never will be.

 

 

 

 

MPAA Rating:PG-13 for sexual situations including dialogue, language and some drug-related humor

Cast: Eddie Murphy, Cliff Curtis, Kerry Washington, Ruby Dee

Credits: Directed by Brian Robbins, written by Steve Koren, a Paramount release.

Running time: 1:33

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