A Thousand Words

“A Thousand Words” is this latest comedy offering from veteran funny man Eddie Murphy.

In it, his outspoken, dishonest, self-absorbed character becomes mysteriously bonded to a magical tree. For every word he speaks or writes, a single leaf falls. When the leaves all fall, he will die.

It’s almost a metaphor for Murphy’s career if you think about it.

The high concept of this film is that Murphy – here playing an obnoxious, skeevey, motor-mouthed literary agent – accidentally cuts himself on a magical tree while trying to sign a modern guru as a client. Later that evening, the tree transplants itself, rumbling up out of the ground in his back yard. It is quickly discovered that Murphy and the tree are now connected. Whenever he speaks or writes, one leaf falls off of the tree for every word he creates. The tree’s health is also connected to Murphy’s health, so as it loses leaves and strength, so does he. That’s not the extent of the “connection” though, Murphy is also physically connected to the sensations of the tree, so when he tries to take an ax to it, he injures himself, and when squirrels run around in it, he’s hopelessly tickled, and when the gardeners fumigate it, he gets stupefyingly high.

But even though the Guru learns of the situation, flies off to investigate and has promised to return in a few short days, Murphy’s character fails to lock himself in a room and wait for the guru and the answers (if any) to return. Instead he tries to carry on with his normal routines, heading into work and meetings, and dealing with his wife even though their relationship is in a difficult place. He mimes, mugs, points, signs, draws, and uses talking toys in order to try to make his way through his normal routines.

It doesn’t work.

As a movie, either.

The first two-thirds to three-quarters of this movie was painfully unfunny comedy. The high concept is stupid, the resulting situations are dumb, and watching Murphy over-emote, pantomime and wildly gesticulate is simply not funny. He gets no help from the supporting characters either. The only other person given any comedic material is Clark Duke and he is of no help whatsoever. In fact, he sets the cause back. Watching his character fill in for Murphy at the business meeting (in the trailer) is more painful than it appears in a few second snippet.

The movie – surprisingly – saves itself from being a total fail via its dramatic portion. At a certain point in time, late in the film, the movie slams the brakes on the comedy and downshifts into drama. Murphy resigns himself to his fate. He’s already lost his wife and child and job. With few leaves left on the tree, he surrenders to the fact that he may die, and begins to genuinely reflect on his life. Counting the number of leaves he has left, he judiciously makes use of the final words he may ever speak. This is no montage or quick wrap-up resolution amidst the comedy… this is a significant portion of the film, and it’s a severe shift in pace and tone. It’s actually far far far far better than the comedic portion of the film, and made me long for Murphy to start taking on serious roles as many other aging comedic actors have. He would be excellent.

As it is, though, it’s not enough to save the film. I don’t know if that would be an acceptable path to victory anyways… I mean, who wants to recommend a comedy by saying “The comedy SUCKED but when it got serious, it was decent…”


22 thoughts on “A Thousand Words

  1. Unlike Brian, I do not salute you for seeing this nor commend you for your commitment to watch crappy films. You are clearly a glutton for punishment and I just can’t support that. 😉

    I tell you what – it might be shit, but it at least sounds somewhat interesting. A strange high concept, but an interesting high concept nonetheless. The premise sounds like a weird indie film starring unknowns, though, and not a vehicle for a (formerly) major star.

    Also, I’m disappointed (or glad) that you didn’t take this opportunity to write, um, a thousand words about the movie.

  2. “Unlike Brian, I do not salute you for seeing this nor commend you for your commitment to watch crappy films. You are clearly a glutton for punishment and I just can’t support that.”

    I’m a shameless bogging addict, I make no bones about it. Thank you for noticing. 😀

    Meanwhile, the tree concept isn’t 100% worth keeping, but when he does shift gears into being reflective about his life and genuinely interested in gaining self awareness, that WAS kind of interesting. I would love to see Murphy do a movie that focuses more on that… without the comedy fail sandwich that it was wrapped up in.

    • Wondering why you said this was Murphy’s latest film. It maybe the most recent release but it was made all the way back in 2008 and sat on the shelf until now. While the film was absorbing shelf dust – Murphy did The Tower Heist.

      • Yeah, good point.

        I guess I didnt think of it that way Mike. I realize that you’re correct in terms of production dates, etc.

        But I guess the standard perception triggers off of Release dates instead. In which case, this is certainly his most recent – being only a couple days old.

  3. Don’t worry I feel your pain. Then again “If no one else will see it, I will” has bit me in the ass numerous times.

    As for the film itself…I didn’t hate it. Maybe it’s after seeing so many abysmal films already this year or maybe I was just expecting a Pluto Nash level of failure but I didn’t hate it. I still would probably only give it 1-1 1/2 stars (It IS painfully unfunny save for maybe 1 or 2 lines) but the concept and that last quarter of the movie really did kind of win me over. I agree, it makes me wish he did a serious role now.

    • Yeah, right? That last part where they got all serious and whatnot was EASILY the best part of the movie. Murphy should definitely try his hand at some serious roles….

      I didn’t hate it either really. I spared it the F. If it hadn’t been for the serious protion though – like if they had filled that last 20 some minutes with more of the comedy fail that we got for the first hour? Ooof. It would have been BAD,

  4. This one looked like it would be pretty dire to me… but then, I’m not really an Eddie Murphy fan, anyway — at least not for Eddie Murphy post 1989.

    You mentioning the idea of Murphy going into more dramatic roles made me wonder just what is on the horizon for him. Apparently the only thing right now is that he’s going to be the voice for a movie adaptation of Hong Kong Phooey. Putting aside my feelings about that idea’s potential, I have to say that at least Murphy would sound right, and he does seem to be a pretty good voice actor. (In fact, I’ve noticed a lot of comedians whose movies I can’t stand turn in pretty good performances when voicing cartoon animals. Somehow I suspect the fact that a director has to really have tight control of the reins in such a production has a lot to do with it.)

    • Well, voice work probably isnt the most challenging for of comedy either. You cant see the person, so they dont have to do anything at all physically or facially, and then you have a cartoon representing you…

      So, it probably a low enough bar.

      That said, he has been good as Donkey and in Mulan, but I hope they dont make Hong Kong Fooey his manic out of control type persona…

      • Yes, the fact that the animators are doing a lot of the work for the actor is definitely a big help.

        And I’m with you, I hope they don’t make Hong Kong Phooey “wacky”; what made him so funny was that he was utterly sincere and serious no matter how idiotic the things he was saying and doing were. (It’s sad that the moment I hear they’re adapting a movie out of an old cartoon my thoughts immediately calibrate to low expectations, but that’s the pattern they’ve established.)

  5. Sorry the movie tanked; didn’t look like much in trailers either.
    BIG fan of Murphy; would happily go see him in a drama (a good one that is).
    Nice post in crediting serious part even though movie as a whole didn’t work as a comedy.

    • Yeah, it was a thorough fail as a comedy unfortunately… and then, how can you offset that with Drama? Even though the serious section was much better, I dont know how much credit a comedy should get for that.

      After seeing this, I think Eddie would do an excellent job in a straight up drama. I hope he tries to go that route soon, S.

  6. Based on your review, I’m glad I didn’t stick around to watch this one with you. I’ll wait for it to show up on cable.

  7. Damn dude, I go away for a weekend and you crank out 100~ new reviews. Very impressive! I admire your dedication to seeing anything and everything new, even if it is Eddie Murphy’s latest release…

    • LOL, It’s funny, but Hollywood still actually outpaces me. 😀

      I’ve found a nice groove with being able to double up on Friday night, hit an early showing Sat, and being wrapped up by Sat noonish… So I’m definitely willing to spend that time workin’ it. LOL

  8. I thought this would be a great film because Murphy would be silent for most of it. I’m with everyone here – why do you watch these awful movies? You have to say no sometimes. I do all the time 🙂 I’m telling you–check out a few foreign films. You’d be amazed.

    • LOL!! Thats way too funny about Murphy having a gag order. Unfortunately, in execution, it winds up being even more painful because he tries to flail about like he’s playing a feature length game of charades. Eesh.

      As to watching bad movies, well… its more a case of watching what Hollywood is releasing right now. I try to hit the top two or three offerings every week, and if they wind up bad, they wind up bad. ::Shrugs:: It’s a sacrifice that I make for having a blog geared to current releases, you know?

      • Where has all the good comedy gone? I appreciate those little sacrifices you make for everyone by watching these. Your reviews are so on point, saves a lot of guesswork. Thank you for this.

      • Aww, my pleasure!

        And hey! we may have a good one this week… surprisingly (to me) 21 Jump Street is doing REALLY well on Rotten Tomatoes, and I know someone who saw it early and loved it. So, we might have a good one coming right up!

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