In the opening scene of “A Thousand Words,” the camera pans through a shattered house. Broken picture frames and furniture occupy the floor. The audience then hears the voice of Eddie Murphy, informing us in a grave tone that he is going to die. At first one might assume that Murphy has gone down the Liam Neeson route and made an action thriller. That thought is quickly diminished, however, as Murphy appears on screen with a piece of duck tape covering his mouth. From there on, “A Thousand Words” is the exact kind of light comedy we were expecting.
Murphy plays Jack McCall, a hotshot book agent who utters more words per minute than Vince Vaughn on speed. His wife is Caroline, played by the lovely Kerry Washington, who wishes to provide a better environment for their son by moving to the suburbs. Jack doesn’t have time to fulfill his wife’s needs though. He’s too busy trying to get a spiritual guru named Dr. Sinja, played by Cliff Curtis, to sell his book. Jack seals the deal, but at a drastic price. A Bodhi tree miraculously grows in Jack’s backyard. With every word he says, another leaf will fall off. Once all the leaves are gone, Jack will be deader than the Truffula Trees in “The Lorax.”
Needless to say, “A Thousand Words” is not the movie to see if you are looking for something completely original. These comedies about flawed men who realize what’s really important in life through supernatural forces are continuously recycled by Hollywood. A short list of examples include “Groundhog Day,” “Bruce Almighty,” “Click,” “Liar, Liar,” and every “Christmas Carol” parody ever made. But that’s beside the point. The question is whether or not “A Thousand Words” is funny despite familiarity? It is, for the most part.
The film makes good use of its premise by placing Murphy in several predictable, yet still humorous, circumstances. Big laughs are scored when Murphy attempts to have a conference call using various plush toys around the office and mimes an order at a Starbucks. Clark Duke is additionally quite funny as Murphy’s dorky assistant who has a furry fetish. After the wacky beginning though, the film takes an odd turn and suddenly becomes overly dramatic as Jack deals with his world collapsing. It’s kind of schizophrenic.
There are also a lot of supporting characters that don’t really amount to much. Early on in the movie Jack is at a shrink’s office talking his mouth off. Yet, we never learn why Jack was seeing a psychologist to begin with. Allison Janney is given a fairly standard role as Jack’s boss, who serves little purpose other than to react to her employee’s bizarre behavior. Then there’s Ruby Dee as Jack’s mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s, a disease that’s really starting to get overused in pictures. This is a movie that was obviously reshot and rewritten several times, leaving some holes unfilled and characters underdeveloped.
“A Thousand Words” was directed by Brian Robbins, who featured Murphy in “Norbit” and “Meet Dave.” Those two movies weren’t highlights of Murphy’s career. While “A Thousand Words” is far from Murphy’s finest hour and a half, it is enjoyable, charming, and well intentioned. Murphy himself actually delivers a believable performance as the caffeine-addicted jerk in the film’s first act, the distressed silent man hanging onto his life in the second act, and even the regretful man seeking redemption in the end.
Is the film without fault? Definitely not. But for Murphy’s performance and a few laugh-out loud moments, “A Thousand Words” is solid enough to mildly recommend. Plus when an actor’s body of recent work includes “Imagine That,” “The Haunted Mansion,” and “The Adventures of Pluto Nash,” one can’t help but grade him on a curve.
Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.