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A Thousand Words

2012 | 91 min | PG-13 | 2.39:1

A Thousand Words


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Theatrical release date

 09 March, 2012
 06 April, 2012

Country of origin

 United States

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Screenshots from A Thousand Words Blu-ray

A Thousand Words Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, March 13, 2012

The most fascinating aspect to “A Thousand Words” is how it requires Eddie Murphy to play silent for a good chunk of the picture. The famed comedian has defined his career with his motor-mouth skills, presenting an exceptional thespian challenge. In better hands, the feature might’ve pulled off something special, merging amusing mime work with a heartfelt statement on the soulful fractures that restrain the human spirit. Instead, “A Thousand Words” has been brought to the screen by Brian Robbins, the filmmaker behind “Varsity Blues,” “Good Burger,” and “Ready to Rumble.” Not exactly an inspired choice to provide speechless hilarity with some degree of sincerity.

Arrogant literary agent Jack McCall (Eddie Murphy) is on the verge of a major deal, hoping to sign superguru Dr. Sinja (Cliff Curtis) as his latest client. Used to lying and deception to make his fortune, Jack has lost touch with wife Caroline (Kerry Washington) and his infant son, while watching his mother, Annie (Ruby Dee), struggle with Alzheimer’s. When his business tactics with Dr. Sinja backfire, Jack finds a magical tree has sprouted in his backyard, and with every word he utters, a leaf falls to the ground. Once all the leaves are gone, Jack is dead, leaving the ruthless businessman to continue on with his hectic life using as few words as possible. With this unforgiving silence comes an appreciation for his own careless behavior, urging Jack to seek truth from within to reverse the tree curse.

“A Thousand Words” marks the third collaboration between Murphy and Robbins, having worked together on 2007’s “Norbit” and 2008’s “Meet Dave.” Clearly, the men enjoy each other’s company, but as a big screen team, their creative vision is on the soggy side, prone to wild swings of slapstick and schmaltz. Surprisingly, “A Thousand Words” was actually filmed in 2008, back when the Robbins/Murphy machine was chugging along without resistance, leaving this effort the last installment in a moviemaking trilogy, resulting in three pictures of lukewarm appeal, the latest effort clearly the worst of the bunch.

Comparisons to “Groundhog Day” are perhaps most apt while discussing “A Thousand Words,” as both films deal with a spiritual awakening of sorts, or a general human softening that rescues the lead characters from assured doom. Of course, “Groundhog Day” is a classic comedy filled with tolerable sensitivity and pants-wetting hilarity. “A Thousand Words” is mostly a tired, artificial effort from a robotic director and screenwriter (Steve Koren, “Jack and Jill”), barely making an effort to investigate its odd premise, more concerned with pushy acts of audience manipulation.

The tree concept carries a curious potential for fantastical panic, sending Jack on an adventure of the soul, where he searches for a way to realign his life without the use of his voice, caught up in all types of mishaps and extended scenes of comic emphasis. Instead, we’re treated to flaccid gags involving Jack’s assistant Aaron (an insufferable Clark Duke), who attempts to help his boss by taking control of a business lunch, only to find himself overwhelmed by the pressure. There are also multiple scenes of Jack using talking dolls and animal noises to convey his thoughts (writing down words also triggers leaf loss), allowing Murphy to furiously mug for the camera, which, under Robbins’s care, is nowhere near as funny as it should be. Jokes involving Jack ordering coffee (product placement for Starbucks is grotesque here), dealing with his physical connection to the tree (when gardeners treat the woody plant with chemicals, Jack gets high), and his pressures to speak in public are numerous in the first half, but nothing in the unexpectedly bawdy script carries a sharpness that would offer surprise. Not helping matters are jokes about Hannah Montana concert ticket sales and a reference to the mental breakdown of Britney Spears, emphasizing the movie’s moldiness.

The second half of the picture introduces a steep dramatic decline, finding Jack coming to terms with his own absentee father as Caroline leaves him, though her inability to grasp the tree situation is one of many plot holes the film refuses to address. Looking to his inner light, Jack takes a meditative trip through his mistakes, killing whatever momentum the feature had up to this point. Laborious and insincere, Jack’s alcohol binging and Zen awakening demands the audience care about an unlikable character and an unlikely situation. Robbins and Koren don’t earn the drastic shift to sympathy, and their insistence that any of this carries a larger message for the viewer is insulting. “A Thousand Words” ends up incomplete and disingenuous, and worse, not a frame of it is funny.

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Kerry Washington, Clark Duke, Cliff Curtis, Allison Janney, Ruby Dee
Director: Brian Robbins

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