Jack McCall (Eddie Murphy) is a very successful man. He’s some sort of agent by trade – I believe it’s literary – with a beautiful wife (Kerry Washington), an adorable little baby boy, and an awesome house in the hills of what appears to be Los Angeles. He’s got the life, that’s for sure, but he’s always looking for more.
In this case, McCall’s next big score is with a New Age nondenomination spiritual guru named Dr. Sinja (Cliff Curtis) who has millions of followers. McCall knows he has a book, and even though McCall never reads more than 10 pages of one, he knows dollar signs are there for the taking. So, Jack pursues Sinja to his ashram, disrupts some pleasant meditation with a brief Michael Jackson interlude, and then, somehow, ends up with a bodhi tree in his backyard.
Is this bodhi tree a gift from Sinja? Well, not quite; it’s a tree Sinja had on his ashram, but he didn’t give it to Jack. The tree simply appeared on Jack’s land, as the tree and Jack are one. This foliage comes with a catch: for every word Jack speaks, the tree loses a leaf. When the tree loses all its leaves, Jack loses his life. That’s kind of a bummer.
In fact, the majority of the movie is a bummer. Jack tries to commit suicide via a Teddy Pendergrass song. Jack’s marriage collapses. Jack’s job is put in jeopardy thanks to his inability to talk to others. There’s a needless Alzheimer’s disease subplot with Ruby Dee as Jack’s mother. When Jack can talk, he’s a jerk to others. The bulk of the movie is maudlin, but at least it’s honestly attempting to manipulate the viewer’s emotions. The film even managed to make me feel bad for Jack, which makes it more successful as a drama than as a source of laughs.
A Thousand Words is a perfect storm of bad comedy, though, both in front of and behind the camera. Surely we’re all familiar with the troubles afflicting Eddie Murphy’s comedy career since Vampire In Brooklyn started him down the dark path. But this movie pairs him once more with one of his primary enablers, director Brian Robbins, the man who guided Murphy in such modern classics as Norbit and Meet Dave (he also did Ready To Rumble, thus earning him a lifetime of hatred from professional wrestling fans).
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the script is from former Seinfeld and Saturday Night Live writer Steve Koren, who hit a high water mark with Bruce Almighty, before sinking into the latrine of Click and Jack And Jill.
To say that A Thousand Words fails as a comedy is an understatement. For one thing, Eddie Murphy’s greatest comedic weapon is his use of words. He’s got a tone, a speed of delivery, and a quick wit that lends itself to being a fast-talking con artist (or in this case, a literary agent). When you muzzle Murphy, you muzzle your movie’s one possible bright spot. Clark Duke gives it his best in his role as McCall’s flunkie, Aaron Wiseberger, but the script just isn’t there. The only time I smiled was when Jack McBrayer showed up as a Starbucks employee, and that was because I really like Kenneth on 30 Rock.
The only people who will like this movie are people who really love watching other people play charades; I’m not sure that’s a huge audience, but I doubt Eddie Murphy really cares. Give him credit for flailing about impressively, but it is yet another ‘they’re trying to be funny’ element in a movie that simply is not funny. There’s nothing worse than a comedy that tries way too hard, and that is the sum of Eddie Murphy’s recent career.
But hey, at least it’s not Bucky Larson.