On a recent airplane ride, I decided to watch a few movies offered on the flight. One of those films was A Thousand Words, the recent Eddie Murphy comedy that was critically panned and flopped at the box office. Since nothing else was playing that I didn’t see or wasn’t interested in, I decided to watch A Thousand Words, which, unfortunately,is at the same level as pretty much every other Eddie Murphy movie that’s come out in the past decade. And no, that’s not a compliment.
A Thousand Words is a tremendously unfunny film with a remarkably bad premise. Dreamworks, who released the movie, must have known this because they kept the film in for about three years (you can tell because of the outdated references to Miley Cyrus). The only reason A Thousand Words was ever released was to coincide with Eddie Murphy’s stint at the Oscars, which he resigned a few months before the awards show. I think Dreamworks should have locked this film up like if it was the Ark of Covenant and have never let it out.
A Thousand Words is about a literary agent named Jack McCall (Murphy). Jack is the kind of guy who will say anything to get what he wants, kind of like Jim Carrey’s character in the much better and funnier Liar Liar. Jack has a caring wife (Ruby Dee) and young son, but is too busy to really focus on them.
When Jack promises to publish a book made by a famous guru (Cliff Curtis), he soon discovers it’s only five pages long and the guru (or some other force whatsoever) punishes him by connecting his spirit to a bodhi tree. Whenever Jack says a word, a leaf falls off, and once all the leaves are gone, he’ll die.
How many leaves does a bodhi tree have? I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure it’s more than a thousand. Roger Ebert guessed 100,000, which seems about right. But A Thousand Words really doesn’t care about this but just trys to make you laugh, which it completely fails at.
This leads to Jack trying to find a way to talk (he can’t write, writing a word counts as a leaf) in ways that the filmmakers must have found very humorous. In one scene, Jack acts out his order at a Starbucks. In another, he uses talking dolls to answer a phone call. Pretty much this makes up the entire film, and the gag gets old straight from the beginning.
The problem is nothing in the movie is really funny. Near the end, A Thousand Words wants to become a drama, which doesn’t really work because the drama isn’t very believable or sincere. Dramas can have comic elements and work well (The Descendants), but comedies with dramatic elements don’t. A Thousand Words falls in the same pile as Click, which also wanted to be serious about family.
Listen, Eddie Murphy was at one point a really funny guy. If you don’t believe me, just watch some of his old Saturday Night Live episodes or one of his movies like Trading Places. But for the past fifteen years or so, Murphy has starred in a bunch of unfunny family comedies or idiotic Tyler Perry-like stuff that have tanked in the box office.
Murphy still has potential to be funny. Even though I didn’t like Tower Heist, I thought Murphy did a good job there. And I think he deserves better than junk like A Thousand Words, no matter how bad his career is right now. I hope that Murphy will someday make good films again. Everyone deserves a second chance.