Whether starring in a buddy comedy (like Trading Places and 48 Hours), a kiddie flick (ala Nutty Professor and Dr. Dolittle), a standup concert (such as Raw and Delirious), or in an animated adventure as a donkey (Shrek) or a dragon (Mulan), Eddie Murphy’s best movies have invariably featured him talking trash. Even his only Oscar-nomination (for Dreamgirls) came for playing a jive motor-mouth, a character ostensibly inspired by the equally-irrepressible James Brown.
Given the readily-identifiable thread running through that string of box-office hits, you really have to wonder how a project like A Thousand Words ever got off the ground. For, not only does the film fail to take advantage of Mr. Murphy’s trademark loquacious tendencies, it actually goes to the opposite extreme by buttoning up his lips for most of the movie.
The studio might have suspected it had a lemon on its hands, since it let the picture sit on the shelf for four years before finally releasing it. In any case, the movie marks the third collaboration between Eddie and director Brian Robbins, along with Norbit and Meet Dave.
A Thousand Words revolves around a familiar anti-hero archetype, the backstabbing, corporate conniver sorely in need of an attitude readjustment. When we’re introduced to Jack McCall (Murphy) at the point of departure, he’s still a high-powered, Hollywood agent smugly sitting atop the showbiz food chain and living in the lap of luxury in a sprawling, mountaintop mansion with a pool and a view.
The insufferable bully takes pleasure in intimidating everyone he encounters: his sycophantic assistant (Clark Duke), his deferential spouse, Caroline (Kerry Washington), and perfect strangers to boot. But karma catches up with the Machiavellian manipulator the day he lies to land his latest client, a popular New Age guru (Cliff Curtis) who has just written a self-help book.
Abracadabra! A magical tree that sheds a leaf for every word Jack speaks suddenly materializes in his backyard. And so few leaves are left by the time he figures out that he will die when the last one hits the ground that he is left with no choice but to take a vow of silence.
Mute Jack is soon beset by a host of woes of Biblical proportions, including the loss of his job and the love of his wife and toddler Tyler (Emanuel Ragsdale). At this juncture, the picture turns to heavy-handed sermonizing in lieu of humor, as our humbled protagonist learns a big lesson about what really matters most in this world while on the road to redemption.
You know you’re in trouble when an Eddie Murphy comedy’s only funny line ("White people sho’ is nice!") was spoiled by the trailer and isn’t even delivered by Eddie, but by an aging vaudevillian (John Witherspoon) doing a cringe-inducing impersonation of Stepin Fetchit.
Makes The Adventures of Pluto Nash look like Beverly Hills Cop.