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A Thousand Words: Odd plot leaves a motor-mouth speechless

Eddie Murphy in a scene from "A Thousand Words."

Bruce McBroom/AP/Paramount

1 out of 4 stars


Give the creators of A Thousand Words credit for thinking way outside the box: How about Eddie Murphy with his mouth clamped shut? The idea of taking one of Hollywood's best-known motor-mouths and reducing him to mugging and charades is definitely novel – and utterly misguided.

For A Thousand Words' first half-hour, Murphy jams in as many words as possible playing Jack, a huckster literary agent who lives in a lavish California home with his pretty wife (Kerry Washington) and baby son. Determined to land New Age guru Dr. Sinja (Cliff Curtis) as a client, Jack visits the guru's ashram and deceptively persuades him to let him sell Dr. Sinja's potentially best-selling book. For his lies, Jack is cursed: a bodhi tree appears in his back yard and, whenever he says a word, the tree loses a leaf. Worse, Jack discovers that when all the leaves are gone, he will die.

This is the incentive for a series of barely connected set-pieces in which Murphy mugs and makes hand signals to get around the word problem. He pretends to squeeze an imaginary breast to order extra milk for his coffee at Starbucks, and uses his wind-up Austin Powers doll to give affirmative answers on the telephone. For some reason he shares the secret about his curse with his nerdy assistant (Clark Duke), but he shuts up around his bewildered wife. At one point, she decides the best way to get him to communicate more is to dress up in a patent-leather bikini and meet him in a hotel room, a scene which serves no other purpose than to ogle Washington in fetish gear.

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At best, A Thousand Words, directed by Brian Robbins ( Meet Dave, Norbit), is perversely interesting as the latest misstep in Murphy's checkered career, following the flops of Meet Dave and Imagine That and the partial comeback of Tower Heist. A Thousand Words was delayed from its original release date in 2008 to take advantage of Murphy acting as this year's Academy Awards show host (he resigned that position when producer Brett Ratner dropped out).

This was apparently intended as an inspirational film as much as a comic one. The premise, similar to such Jim Carrey comedies as Liar Liar and Bruce Almighty (screenwriter Steve Koren also wrote Bruce Almighty), attempts to show the clown with a sensitive side.

A couple of scenes include Jack visiting his mother (Ruby Dee), who has Alzheimer's disease and mistakes Jack for his deadbeat father. In another scene, Jack gets drunk and angry, singing along with Teddy Pendergrass. And near the end of the film, Jack has an out-of-body experience in kitschy overly lit scenes, evocative of The Lovely Bones or even The Tree of Life. For a comedy about the quest for inner peace, A Thousand Words reeks of desperation.

A Thousand Words

  • Directed by Brian Robbins
  • Written by Steve Koren
  • Starring Eddie Murphy, Kerry Washington and Cliff Curtis
  • Classification: PG
  • 1 star

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About the Author
Film critic

Liam Lacey is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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