You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

A Thousand Words

Pic springs from the seed of an interesting idea: that the ideal Eddie Murphy movie might be one in which the actor keeps his mouth shut.

Jack McCall - Eddie Murphy
Caroline McCall - Kerry Washington
Dr. Sinja - Cliff Curtis
Aaron Wiseberger - Clark Duke
Annie McCall - Ruby Dee
Samantha Davis - Allison Janney

The tale of a smooth-talking, self-absorbed book agent forced to turn over a new leaf when he finds that every utterance brings him one step closer to death, “A Thousand Words” springs from the seed of an interesting idea: that the ideal Eddie Murphy movie might be one in which the actor keeps his mouth shut. Alas, even Murphy’s largely wordless, physically adroit performance can’t redeem this tortured exercise in high-concept spiritualist hokum, which suggests a cross between “Liar Liar” and Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree,” but with more kitsch and gay jokes. Commercial prospects look none too fertile.

Finally opening nearly four years after its completion, this Paramount release of a DreamWorks title — one of numerous projects left up in the air in the wake of the two companies’ messy 2008 divorce — was initially shelved to distance it from Murphy’s back-to-back flops “Meet Dave” (2008) and “Imagine That” (2009). Though it reteams the actor with “Meet Dave” and “Norbit” helmer Brian Robbins, “A Thousand Words” bears a stronger resemblance to “Imagine That,” another blandly sentimental fable of self-improvement in which supernatural forces conspire to turn a slick company man into father-of-the-year material.

A high-powered literary agent who never reads, Jack McCall (Murphy) applies his fast-talking, relentlessly superficial style to every aspect of his life. Strutting and talking a blue streak wherever he goes, he never lets his shrink (Lou Saliba) get a word in edgewise, mistreats his eager-to-please assistant (Clark Duke), and neglects his increasingly disgruntled wife, Caroline (Kerry Washington), and their young son (Emanuel Ragsdale).

But Jack is forced to confront his shortcomings when he signs influential New Age guru Dr. Sinja (a droll Cliff Curtis), shortly after which a large tree suddenly sprouts in Jack’s backyard, faster than a beanstalk and no less life-altering. To his alarm, the tree sheds a leaf for every word he speaks, leading Dr. Sinja to conclude that Jack has approximately 1,000 words left before the tree is bare and his life is presumably finished.

The rest of the film amounts to a feature-length game of charades, as Jack attempts to negotiate a series of high-stakes professional and personal situations while saying as little as possible. In an especially cruel twist, even the act of writing depletes Jack’s word quota, making it all the harder for him to explain his preposterous dilemma to others, and calling forth from Murphy a typically agile display of spastic body language, exasperated facial twitches and other tried-and-true forms of physical shtick.

Yet if the pic means to teach a lesson about the importance of choosing one’s words wisely, Steve Koren’s screenplay can’t be accused of practicing what it preaches. Even overlooking the lumbering predictability of Jack’s redemption, the comedy feels as forced and flat-footed as the uplift, and scenes of tense marital discord and drippy dream sequences sit uncomfortably alongside slapstick hijinks and a few smirkingly homophobic gags. The inspirational messages imparted to Jack and the audience — love your wife and kids; resolve your festering daddy issues; speak with actions, not words — are slathered on with a trowel.

The solid supporting cast does as much with the material as possible. Making the most of his scene-stealing opportunities is Duke, who takes his nervous-dweeb routine to amusing ends, while Curtis manages to invest a white-robed stereotype with droll humor and attitude. The women, by contrast, are joke-free: Ruby Dee is sealed in grave, dignified amber as Jack’s dementia-stricken mother, while Washington is notably ill served as Caroline, a total pill whose happiness is little more than a checkbox on her husband’s self-help agenda. In the end, Jack’s metaphysical speech impediment scarcely matters, so thoroughly does “A Thousand Words” enable and encourage the character’s narcissism.

Tech credits are fine if unremarkable. Robbins frequently plants Murphy dead-center in the widescreen frame, the flat inactivity surrounding his frantic emoting furthering the sense of the performance as the pic’s one and only trick.

A Thousand Words

Production: A Paramount release of a DreamWorks presentation of a Work After Midnight/Saturn Films production. Produced by Alain Chabat, Stephanie Danan, Nicolas Cage, Norma Golightly, Brian Robbins, Sharla Sumpter Bridgett. Executive producer, Jane Bartelme. Co-producers, Lars Winther, Marc Haimes. Directed by Brian Robbins. Screenplay, Steve Koren.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor, widescreen), Clark Mathis; editor, Ned Bastille; music, John Debney; music supervisor, Madonna Wade-Reed; production designer, Clay A. Griffith; art director, Jay Pelissier; set designer, Robert Sissman; set decorator, Wayne Shepherd; costume designer, Mary Vogt; sound (Dolby Digital/Datasat/SDDS), Willie D. Burton; sound designer, Elliott L. Koretz; re-recording mixers, Andy Koyama, Frank A. Montano; special effects coordinator, Joe D. Ramsey; visual effects supervisor, Raymond McIntyre Jr.; visual effects, Pixel Magic; assistant director, Lars Winther; associate producers, Caroline Bresard; Nicolas Giraudi; casting, Juel Bestrop, Seth Yanklewitz. Reviewed at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live, Los Angeles, March 7, 2012. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 91 MIN.

With: Jack McCall - Eddie Murphy
Caroline McCall - Kerry Washington
Dr. Sinja - Cliff Curtis
Aaron Wiseberger - Clark Duke
Annie McCall - Ruby Dee
Samantha Davis - Allison JanneyWith: Emanuel Ragsdale, Lou Saliba.

More Film

  • '2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live

    Film Review: ‘2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live Action’

    The Academy skewed dark in its choice of live-action shorts this year, selecting four films to slit your wrists by — each one featuring child endangerment in a different form — and a fifth, about a diabetic on her death bed, that finds a glimmer of uplift at the other end of life. If that [...]

  • How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes

    How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes Sports and Showbiz in an Entertaining Mix

    Walking through the El Segundo studio where veteran sportscaster Rich Eisen tapes his daily “Rich Eisen Show,” the sheer density of sports memorabilia is overwhelming — everything from game balls to jerseys, gear, autographs and uncountable photos are crammed onto every inch of wall and desk space. But step into Eisen’s dressing room, and the [...]

  • Yorgos Lanthimos

    Film News Roundup: 'The Favourite' Director Yorgos Lanthimos Boards Crime Drama

    In today’s film news roundup, Yorgos Lanthimos has set up a crime drama, “Here Lies Daniel Tate” is being adapted, and Donna Langley becomes a member of the USC film school board. DIRECTOR HIRED More Reviews Film Review: ‘2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live Action’ TV Review: 'Whiskey Cavalier' “The Favourite” producer-director Yorgos Lanthimos has [...]

  • Brody Stevens Dead

    Comedian Brody Stevens Dies at 48

    Prominent Los Angeles comedian Brody Stevens died Friday in Los Angeles, Variety has confirmed. He was 48. “Brody was an inspiring voice who was a friend to many in the comedy community,” Stevens’ reps said in a statement. “He pushed creative boundaries and his passion for his work and his love of baseball were contagious. [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business

    Hollywood Agents Blast Writers Guild Over New Proposals

    The war between the Writers Guild of America and Hollywood agents has escalated as the two sides battle over the rules on how writers are represented. The latest volley emerged Friday from Karen Stuart, executive director of the Association of Talent Agents, who accused WGA leaders of misleading its members and asserted that the guild [...]

  • Xavier Legrand Custody

    Cesar Awards: Xavier Legrand’s ‘Custody’ Wins Best Film

    Xavier Legrand’s feature debut “Custody,” a tense portrait of a family torn by domestic violence, won best film, actress (for Lea Drucker), and original screenplay at the 44th Cesar Awards, which took place at the Salle Pleyel in Paris. The awards are France’s highest film honors. “Custody,” which marks Legrand’s follow up to his Oscar-nominated [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    'Crazy Rich Asians,' 'Late Show With Stephen Colbert' Win Publicity Campaign Awards

    Hollywood publicists have selected “Crazy Rich Asians” as the top movie publicity campaign for 2018 and “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” as the best television campaign. Warner Bros.’ “Crazy Rich Asians” topped the campaigns for Disney’s “Black Panther,” Fox’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Paramount’s “A Quiet Place,” Sony’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” and Universal’s “Halloween” for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content