Eddie Murphy is a curious case. In his heyday he pioneered the buddy cop genre and was a fixture in some classic 80s movies like Harlem Nights and Coming to America. A few years ago he even won an Academy Award for a supporting role in Dreamgirls. In many respects, Murphy is an accomplished actor. But in other respects he’s responsible for some of the worst movies of the past decade. I present Exhibit A and B. Murphy’s resume is so spotty that I don’t know what to expect from his movies. I had low expectations for A Thousand Words, but it wasn’t as bad as some of his more recent duds. A tepid endorsement for sure, so I wouldn’t rush out to see this one.
Murphy stars as Jack McCall, a fast-talking literary agent who isn’t above bending the truth to get what he wants. His latest target is a new age self-help guru named Dr. Sinja, a fictionalized Deepak Chopra who looks like he raided the Dalai Lama’s closet. Sinja’s philosophy involves finding inner peace by shutting out the noise of the world and looking inward. Jack lives a life polar opposite from Sinja’s, but he is impressed by his massive following and wants to translate Sinja’s popularity into riches. He lies about his motivations, and gets Sinja to sign a book deal. During his spiel to Sinja while visiting his compound, Jack encounters a mystical tree in his garden. It is supposed to be a source of peaceful reflection, but Jack leans against it while lying to Sinja and cuts his hand on the bark, leaving behind some blood. The next day Jack and his wife Caroline (Kerry Washington, For Colored Girls) are shocked to see the massive tree sprout up in their backyard. As he talks, the tree loses leaves. When all the leaves have fallen from the tree it will die, and so will Jack. By the time Jack notices what’s going on, there are about a thousand leaves left on the tree. Jack has a thousand remaining words to speak and is forced to find other ways to communicate. He is also forced to listen to his inner voice since he can’t use his outer one. Unable to BS his way through life anymore, he tries the introspection he should have attempted long ago, but will he learn his lesson before it’s too late?
A Thousand Words wasn’t the most original movie concept. It reminded me of two Jim Carrey movies, Liar Liar and Yes Man. In both movies, Carrey’s ability to communicate was severely hampered so that he could learn a bigger life lesson. He couldn’t lie in Liar Liar and he couldn’t say no in Yes Man. In A Thousand Words, Eddie Murphy can’t talk at all. This lead to a lot of comedic, physical acting and Murphy gave a capable performance. I felt his character’s frustration and his sincerity as he tried to communicate without speaking. There are those who will take a glance at this movie and dismiss it as Murphy’s usual tripe, but I think that would be a bit unfair. The movie may have taken itself too seriously at times, but at least it tried. Despite being largely forgettable, it featured some talented actresses, including Ruby Dee (American Gangster) and Allison Janney (The Help), in addition to the aforementioned Kerry Washington. Though it probably won’t fare well at the box office, I thought A Thousand Words wasn’t nearly as shameful as some of Murphy’s recent offerings. It made for a passable day at the movies, but there are more exciting choices currently in theaters. I give it an A for effort.
This article first appeared at http://poptimal.com/2012/03/a-thousand-words-review-a-for-effort/ and was reprinted with permission.