‘A Thousand Words’ Review

Published 3 years ago by , Updated November 27th, 2014 at 3:20 pm,

A Thousand Words starring Eddie Murphy Review A Thousand Words Review

Bottom line: this film is not worth a theater ticket – maybe not even worth a rental.

In A Thousand Words Eddie Murphy plays Jack McCall, a hotshot literary agent who is known for (what else?) his quick-fire linguistics. When Jack learns of a book recently completed by new age guru Dr. Sinja (Cliff Curtis), he infiltrates Sinja’s seminar on self-discovery through silence, in order to seal a deal. That visit, and the…creative truths Jack tells Sinja, result in a mysterious tree popping up in Jack’s backyard. It isn’t long before even on-the-go Jack puts two and two together and notices that the new tree sheds a leaf with every word he speaks (or writes).

Sinja observes that Jack and the tree are somehow spiritually linked; if the tree should lose all its leaves, Jack will die. The guru promises to seek council from other wise men during his upcoming retreat, leaving Jack alone for three days with his predicament. The curse couldn’t have come at a worse time: Jack has important meetings with publishers interested in Sinja’s book; his wife Caroline (Kerry Washington) is fed up with trying to raise their son in the glorified bachelor pad Jack calls a home; and his dementia-afflicted mother, Annie (Ruby Dee), wants nothing more for her birthday than a visit from Jack’s late estranged father.

With so many big things on his plate, Jack tries to navigate 72 hours of his chaotic life – without wasting a word. But as this lost soul will learn, being silent and truly listening are not one and the same.

Eddie Murphy and Cliff Curtis in A Thousand Words A Thousand Words Review

One big problem (of many) with A Thousand Words is its unbalanced tone. Initially, the film has all the earmarks of the family-friendly slapstick comedy that has become the trademark of Murphy’s 21st century career, but when the cuss words start dropping, you’ll wonder if we’re not going to see some classic “dirty Murphy” after all. Spoiler Alert: raunchy comedy is not what we get, either.

After an initial setup – punctuated by spastic (and worn-out) Eddie Murphy schtick - the film evolves into a more earnest story about a man with deep-seeded emotional issues, who truly needs the extreme (and fantastical) circumstances of the film to clean out his soul and get his life in order. The final third of the film is actually surprising in how serious it attempts to be, with Murphy displaying some dramatic acting ability not seen since his work in Dreamgirls.

The downside of the film’s climatic emotional machinations (keyword: machinations), is that the heartfelt sentiment is at total odds with the sheer amount of buffoonery and ridiculousness that precedes it. I’ve already described the Murphy-brand buffoonery of the first act, but it’s the utter ridiculousness of Act 2 that manages to unravel A Thousand Words. The main problem is that when Murphy starts to conform to his coerced code of silence, his choices, and the reactions of the supporting characters, are totally silly and illogical, to the point of aggravation.

Kerri Washington and Eddie Murphy in A Thousand Words A Thousand Words Review

Kerry Washington and Eddie Murphy in ‘A Thousand Words’

Whether it’s day-to-day business matters with his assistant Aaron (Clark Duke), or important marital issues with his wife, somehow the supporting characters use Jack’s silence as a springboard to jump to the most extreme or unlikely conclusions. (For example: It takes five seconds of Jack not speaking for Aaron to immediately start confessing his deepest, darkest, secrets. Just like real life *sarcasm*.) Things get even dumber with the forced injection of a secondary plot device (Jack is physically affected by whatever happens to the tree), which is milked for some arbitrary scenes of unfunny physical comedy (pesticide spray on the tree makes Jack “high” during an important meeting, etc.).

Even more excruciating is the total lack of logic in regards to where, why, and when Jack is willing – and not willing - to speak. He risks bodily harm, rather than give a blind man a verbal warning about oncoming traffic; risks losing his family, rather than saying a few choice words about his predicament or emotions; risks not getting some triple-X love from his hot wife, rather than spitting out a few dirty words (madness!) – but he’ll curse or rant whenever he’s the least bit frustrated (or rather, when the filmmakers think it will be “funny”). By the time Jack starts saying the right things, you’ll probably wish the tree had been hacked apart and used for firewood.

Writer Steven Koren has a long list of films people either love, or love to hate (Night at the Roxbury, Bruce Almighty, Click, Evan Almighty, Adam-Sandler’s Razzie-nominated Jack and Jill) and A Thousand Words fits perfectly in that not-so-proud collection of often-predictable, sporadically enjoyable, works. Varsity Blues director Brian Robbins has followed Murphy down the dark path of his recent career (Norbit, Meet Dave), and although those collaborations have resulted in some terrible films (Norbit, Meet Dave), with A Thousand Words I can say that Robbins makes the film at least look slick and polished.

Eddie Murphy Allison Janney and Clark Duke in A Thousand Words A Thousand Words Review

Eddie Murphy, Allison Janney, and Clark Duke in ‘A Thousand Words’

For such a flimsy and poorly-executed concept, A Thousand Words manages to collect some talented players. Washington is a lovely leading lady (see also: Last King of Scotland); Cliff Curtis (Die Hard 4, Training Day) is a much better actor than his presence in this film would suggest; aging starlet Ruby Dee is still owning the screen in scene-stealing cameo roles (see also: her Oscar-nominated turn in American Gangster); and even actors like Clark Duke (Hot Tub Time Machine) and Allison Janney (The West Wing) could  - nay, should -  be doing better things with their talents.

Bottom line: this film is not worth a theater ticket – maybe not even worth a rental. Definitely one to catch on that odd Saturday night cable TV channel surf, where the damage to your wallet (and psyche) will be less felt.

A Thousand Words is now playing in theaters everywhere. The movie is rated PG-13 for sexual situations including dialogue, language and some drug-related humor.

Our Rating:

2 out of 5

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  1. saw this a mile away. ive only “seen” eddie murphy in the shrek films recently, and tower heist, which was a good film. but i found eddie kind of annoying at some parts. i am a little surprised you even gave it 2 stars, that almosts seems a little generous.

  2. I think Mr Murphy is under the impression that no one is interested in seeing his movies anymore so it doesn’t really matter how bad they turn out to be. Either that or he’s just collecting as many cheques as possible. Wouldn’t be the first performer to do so or the last.

  3. I feel bad for Eddie Murphy.
    He’s a good actor, and a funny guy, but why does he keep doing terrible movies like this?
    *Sigh*, I’m hoping he makes a comeback at some point.
    Maybe he should do some stand-up for a while (that usually “refuels” comedic actors)

    • Let’s not give eddie murphy to much credit. He was a last minute add in for beverly hills cops. That’s just luck not like it was his marvelous movie choice.

    • This was a poor attempt at trying to make a Jim Carrey type movie.

  4. 2 stars? I’m surprised; I would have guessed a half star.

    Eddie needs to get back to what made him a star: adult comedies. Where is that smart mouth from Trading Places and 48 Hours? Where is the cunning dude from Beverly Hills Cop? I don’t know, I think a Rocky 3 type scenario is needed here (going back to your roots, eye of the tiger).

    • The strange thing is (and I struggle to think of another actor in the same boat. Perhaps Nic Cage?) he still has so much goodwill from people who fondly remember Trading Places/Coming To America/48 Hours/BHC and no matter how many turgid movies he makes, this doesn’t seem to change. There is always the hope though that we will see the old Eddie Murphy. Depends entirely on how many extensions on his house he wants, I s’pose…

      • Hey, I still have “Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood” fondly in my memory. :-P

  5. eddie murphy, adam sandler, and nic cage need to get back on top like they were in the late 80s and 90s

  6. I agree. I would like to see Eddie Murphy collaborate with Nick Nolte and director Walter Hill to portray older versions of ex-con Reggie Hammond and Detective Jack Cates. In a twist on the first film, maybe Hammond would only have 48 hours to avenge the murder of his “partner,” Jack Cates. I think it would great to see those two together, even for a few brief scenes.

    Perhaps, they could redeem themselves after that horrible sequel back in 1990.

  7. Poor poor Eddie Eddie Murphy the consensus is in. It’s time to get back to your roots. I would love to see another BHC movie. If Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone can make action movies at their age then there’s no reason why Axel Foley shouldn’t be able to kick ass again. :) I’m sure Judge Reinhold and John Ashton could find a way to clear their busy schedules. :P

  8. Eddie’s very underrated ‘Metro’ was the closest thing to a sequel to Beverly Hills Cop 2 than that John Landis Wonderworld p.o.s. ever was. The studio should’ve just changed the character’s name to Axel Foley and called it that.

    Better yet, since it’s his signature role, Eddie should just come out the pocket and hire a quality screenwriter to write an action flick called ‘Alex Foley,’ period.

    I would love to see what director Joe Carahan could do with a modest budget, an excellent script, and an actor who was hungry to reclaim his status as an actual ‘movie star.’

    • that would be a nice mix. i thing carnahan would be a good choice, especially if you tried to re-hash BHC. he did a good job with the a team, imo.
      it’s almost as though eddie is following ah-nulds carrer. adult themed movies, followed by silly family-friendly fare. is he gonna run for governor too? if you go to imdb.com, and look at his “resume”, it’s quite sad really, to see the regression of his carrer, starting with 48 hrs, and looks like’s doing the voice for hong kong phooey…ugh. is he going to do a lame impression of scatman crothers? i think the last good movie he did was life. (in all fairness, i never saw dream girls, and probably never will, not my kind of film/music) he needs to go back to being the “f*** you man!” (see “raw” if you don’t get the reference, all you under 21 year olds…i’m lookin at you theavenger! )

  9. I wish he would just stop making films for 2 years and do stand up instead. Maybe getting in front of a crowd would re-ground him. Probably never happen though.

  10. maybe he just needs a better agent to help him get into more of the “best comedy of the year” type films

  11. Saw this movie Saturday night. I can agree with the 2-stars or just waiting to rent it for even less than the price of two tickets. But there’s something to keep in mind and that is Eddie is no longer that brash young comic fresh off of SNL. He’s been there done that. He’s even stated that he has no interest in returning to stand-up.

    Now what he needs to do is get off the fence. Either be an actor in comedic situations or just become an actor. Towards the end of this movie as mentioned you get to see his ability/potential as an actor. Same for his role in Dream Girls, which got him an Oscar nomination.

  12. The solution to Eddie Murphy’s problems is a reunion of veteran comedy actors in the same vein as The Expendables for action. Bring back some of what made Eddie Murphy great and stick him in a movie with other old comedy stars.

    • maybe, just don’t let him direct it…COUGH! harlem nights COUGH!

  13. From what I understand, Eddie Murphy made a promise to his kids to make movies that were more family-friendly. I could be wrong in this information, but if that’s what’s holding him back from actually making a funny movie, then he needs to tell his kids to shove it.

  14. I want a refund, wait for the free showing( cable service provider).

  15. Did Eddie Murphy take a course on “Accepting Bad Scripts and cashing checks” by Nicolas Cage?

  16. This could have been a reflective movie, like the children’s story “82 Words” and it might have been a hillarious, but it fell uncomfortably in between. Still, it provided some decent laughs, the love interest was well played, and Clark Duke was impressive as the timid assistant who quickly learns to mirror his arrogant motormouth boss.

  17. i thank it should be 4 stars

  18. I happened to think this movie was very GOOD!!!