Eddie Murphy and Brian Robbins (Meet Dave, Norbit) are the acting-directing team equivalent of corn kernels and shit. They’re comedy constipation: Big terrible ideas they try way too hard to push out of a tiny hole of creativity. There are a multitude of theories that attempt to explain the trajectory of Murphy’s career, but more than even the money or laziness, it’s probably fear. The funniest man in Hollywood during the 1980s became so afraid of having his earnest comedic efforts rejected, he shriveled up inside a shell of high-concept gimmickry and hid behind the wall of family films where he was safe from judgement. He could be blamed for poor script choices and greed, but he could not be accused of failing to live up to the heights of “Delirious” and “Raw” and Coming to America and Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hours if he never even tried to scale those heights again.
A Thousand Words was filmed in 2008, back before Tower Heist reminded us ever-so-little of the Eddie Murphy we once loved. Tower Heist wasn’t a complete return to form, but it was a step in the right direction. A Thousand Words, which was shelved until the studio eyed a release date following the Oscar hosting gig that never was, has to feel like a huge embarrassment to Murphy, who looked like he was starting to crawl back. Murphy has done no publicity for A Thousand Words, as he’s probably trying to distance himself from the project and pray that it quietly flops like so many his films before it. That’s what I choose to believe, anyway. Murphy is biding his time, waiting for the perfect role to resurface and blow the doors off his dumpy career. Eddie Murphy doesn’t want anyone to see A Thousand Words. Out of respect for his earlier work, you should abide by those wishes. It’s for your own benefit. It’s one of the worst films in a career full of terrible ones.
In the film, Murphy stars as Jack McCall, a fast-talking and sleazy literary agent who is full of more bullshit than a rodeo clown. He talks too much, he works too much, he lies, and he ignores his wife (Kerry Washington) and kid (Emanuel Ragsdale). However, when McCall stretches the truth on a deal with a new age guru, he discovers a Bodhi tree in his yard. After every word that Jack utters, a leaf falls. If the tree loses all its leaves, it dies, and so does Jack. Jack, therefore, has to learn to live with fewer words, which means 70-minutes of Eddie Murphy mugging, of over-exaggerated facial expressions, and using nonverbal cues — such as flatulence — to get his point across. The trailer also suggests he squeezes a woman’s breast to indicate he wants milk. Hilarious!
Naturally, the whole tedious, unfunny exercise inspires Jack, who learns a valuable lesson about himself through his silence, and grows closer to his wife and kid through the experience. Maybe he even quits his job as a high-paid corporate literary agent and opens up his own boutique devoted to inspiring self-help literature for children. The New Age guru is probably his first client. I bet there’s even a big rousing ham-fisted score.
I’m sure that A Thousand Words is every bit as insipid as it sounds, and anyone whose brain isn’t a congealed mass of unformed jelly will avoid it. You don’t need a proper review to know that: Eddie Murphy’s track record, his working relationship with Brian Robbins, the lack of publicity, and ten seconds of one trailer is all one needs to make an informed decision. The only intrigue in this movie is the over/under on how many terrible puns movie reviewers come up with slam the film.