*1/2 (out of four)
After more than thee years on the shelf, "A Thousand Words" hasn't aged well. Or do I need to say that louder, so you can hear me over your laughter at cracks about the Atkins Diet, Britney and Chili’s baby-back ribs?
Worse, the movie barely cares about its own rules. Fast-talking agent Jack McCall (Eddie Murphy), an arrogant Ari Gold type who will die if he says 1,000 more words, can’t raise his middle finger because that counts as two. He can’t write anything down because those words also count. Yet he can make all the other hand gestures and facial expressions he wants, which seems like cheating.
“A Thousand Words” wants to suggest that spiritual leader Dr. Sinja (Cliff Curtis) and his “Aren’t you amazed by trees?” wisdom guide Jack to inner peace by forcing him, through extreme measures and a magic tree that operates like the rose in “Beauty and the Beast,” to shut his overactive trap. Except that’s not really the point, or Jack wouldn’t be penalized for singing along to “The Wheels on the Bus” at his young son’s playgroup. (There’s nothing wrong with that, or with normal everyday conversation.)
The tree mostly exists as an object of voodoo so when squirrels scale the trunk, Jack feels like there are squirrels in his pants. When Jack chops the tree, HE gets a gash in his leg. And when gardeners spray poisonous gas at the tree, Jack acts like he just came from a Phish show. The surgeon general now requires me to note that toxic gas does not inspire the munchies.
Heavily echoing "Liar, Liar," "Bruce Almighty" and Murphy's own "Imagine That," the shamelessly manipulative “Words” joins the ever-expanding genre of “lightweight comedies about men/dads/husbands” who need to shape up. Unfortunately Jack’s young son (Emanuel Ragsdale) and wife Caroline (Kerry Washington), who simply wants some healthy communication from a guy who barely listens, get treated like an afterthought while Jack clowns around.
Yeah, there are a few laughs. Murphy’s contorted face can usually squeeze out a few chuckles on its own. But “A Thousand Words” boasts the same fondness for juvenile, mean-spirited humor as director Brian Robbins’ “Norbit” and co-writer Steve Koren’s “Jack and Jill,” only in mercifully smaller doses.
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