The idea of a movie where Eddie Murphy can’t talk works much better on paper than it does in reality. At least this is the case with Brian Robbin’s A Thousand Words, a high-concept comedy wrapped around the idea that loud-mouthed literary agent Jack McCall — played by Murphy — is magically intertwined with a tree that loses a leaf for every word Jack speaks. When the tree loses its leaves it dies, and so does Jack. This also means we get a movie with a mute Murphy, which isn’t quite as snazzy as it sounds.
This is, after all, a movie that’s been sitting on the shelf for a reported four-year span (which — if you feel like being frightened — is twice as long as 2002’s infamously awful The Adventure of Pluto Nash). And like so many of these movies that just flounder in release-date hell (the long, strange tale of John Madden’s Killshot (2008) comes to mind), it’s a movie that’s more negligible than actively awful. This doesn’t mean A Thousand Words doesn’t flirt with being terrible.
Since our lead can’t speak, we instead get a full-on camera-mugging Eddie Murphy, who gets to indulge in some pretty questionable physical comedy on top of it all. Since Jack is linked to this magical tree, we get such mind-numbingly insipid bits of slapstick, such as a jittering, convulsing Eddie Murphy, caused by some CGI squirrels. A Thousand Words really feels like something Jim Carrey would’ve done in his heyday (think 1997’s Liar Liar), complete with the lessons about family and being a workaholic, all learned in the film’s final reel.
Its need to deliver such a pointed lesson is where the bulk of A Thousand Words’ wrong-headedness lies. It’s made clear that Jack must learn these important life lessons, and that he must ultimately get over his daddy issues. Unfortunately, none of this makes much sense, since we’re not told much about what his problems with his long-lost father really are, or shown how they’ve impacted his life to this point. The whole thing feels shoe-horned in. Plus, director Robbins handles it all in a confusingly mystical way, full of sunny fields of wheat and bizarre flashbacks that scream to be taken seriously. I guess everyone forgot they were making an Eddie Murphy movie. Rated PG-13 for sexual situations including dialogue, language and some drug-related humor.