Contrived, shmaltzy, and painfully unfunny, this Eddie Murphy stinker has him playing a fast-talking publishing agent who, after a fateful encounter with a spiritual guru, falls victim to a curse that will kill him if he says more than (you guessed it) a thousand words. Eddie plays Jack McCall, your typically crabby, overworked husband who ignores his wife and infant child’s pleading for more attention because he takes his job too seriously; there’s even the requisite scene (taken straight from Miss Congeniality, among others) where he makes up some outlandish excuse to get in front of the line at Starbucks. He is trying to acquire the rights to a book written by a massively popular spiritual guru, who immediately sees him for the huckster that he is. After their encounter, a tree magically springs up in Jack’s back yard; as he soon finds out, he and the tree are connected, and every time he utters a word, the tree loses a leaf, moving one step closer to dying and, consequently, killing Jack. As he awaits help from the wishy-washy guru, he must learn to live without his trademark powers of persuasion, and mugs, pantomimes, and wrenches his body through a plethora of uncomfortable, contrived situations.
This film is not an epic fail waste of time P.O.S. deserving of locusts to be rained down on those responsible for its production. There are scenes of Eddie Murphy establishing his Master of the Universe character by acting with his age-old motormouth routine that actually call back to when he was the biggest movie star in America. While he is neutered by the PG-13 rating and the family-friendly atmosphere, he still manages to successfully depict a portrait of a complete L.A. narcissist (his psychiatrist sessions are a hoot), at least until the film takes away his voice. Clark Duke, as Eddie’s assistant, also has several laugh-out-loud moments heightened by Duke’s obviously proficient ability to improvise opposite Murphy. However, the film is, in the end, a deflated, overly cynical movie fashioned around a narrative and plot elements that scream of filmmakers that have never left Los Angeles. This is one of those movies where everyone, as far as the eye can see, is either rich, famous, or otherwise contented; the biggest imposing threat in the film (other than Jack’s possible death, which of course is the obvious ending for this kind of movie) is that Jack’s wife will leave him for not buying the house she wants. At around the halfway point, after a few awkward scenarios and montages of Murphy silently miscommunicating his intentions, the film runs out of gags, and starts piling on the cheese. We see the warning signs when we meet Jack’s Alzheimer-ridden mother early in the film, and, sure enough, she magically springs to full mental health long enough to give Jack a lengthy, inspiring monologue about how he is a success unlike his deadbeat father. Jack starts living life more “conscientiously,” and several scenes of him getting in touch with his inner child through mediation are painfully off-the-mark spiritual drivel that would have seemed out of touch in Steve Martin’s L.A. Story 20 years ago.
There are some decent actors in the film, but none of them even try to elevate the flatlining material. Alison Janney, Kerry Washington, and Cliff Curtis flounder around in search of a character, but end up coming off as the exposition-spouting plot devices that they are. Curtis, in particular, never seems to find the right way to portray his overly straight-laced guru, and ends up coming off as a decent actor saving up his money for riskier gigs. Smaller cameos for very funny people like Jack McBrayer, Steve Little, and poor John Witherspoon (who really has been in some of the worst films ever) completely fail to utilize their comic energy, and are further examples of the castrated-comedy vibe that permeates the film. Clark Duke is actually funny in the film; a scene of him covering for the cursed McCall at a crucial meeting is, perhaps, the only moment that gives evidence of the tired premise’s comic potential. But this film was shot in ’09, back when he was a “rising star,” and his profile has, unfortunately, not risen significantly since then (while similarly awkward, and less funny, Jonah Hill headlines multiple movies a year and has an Oscar nom); this dog will not help his standing in Hollywood. But the real tragedy here is Eddie. After seeing him come so close to being truly funny again in last year’s Tower Heist (even knowing that this was shot first), it is a shame to see him back into Safey McSafe land begrudgingly learning how to be a good dad/husband/human being. The flashes of the old, mile-a-minute wit of his end up being nothing but painful reminders of his lasting, yet consistently misused skills as a comedian. The idea that he was going to host the Oscars, giving him his first venue for a stand-up show in 20 years, made the idea of a Brett Ratner-produced ceremony sound awesome; it could’ve provided a fire under his ass to get him to be funny again, and could’ve restored his star to it’s once untouchable status. But alas, Ratner didn’t work out, and we are left with films like this to either make us forget we ever laughed at Murphy’s humor or to merely detest his output free of pretense and knowledge of his true comic potential.
Skip It, save for Murphy or Clark Duke completists. I saw this movie for free; otherwise, I fear I would have vastly overpaid for this film.