After stretching the truth on a deal with a spiritual guru, literary agent Jack McCall finds a Bodhi tree on his property. Its appearance holds a valuable lesson on the consequences of every word we speak.
Jack McCall, played by Eddie Murphy, finds an unusual tree in his yard after an encounter with a spiritual guru. After discovering that with each word he speaks, a leaf drops off of the tree, Jack refuses to speak at all, as doing so will keep the tree, and him, alive. However, his work, marriage, and friendships are all affected by his choice. Can Jack figure out an alternative method of survival? Or will he simply have to live the rest of his life to the fullest? Written by
The first half hour of A Thousand Words is giddy, upbeat, and very funny as Eddie Murphy's typical schtick of farce tactics and crude, off-the-wall dialog comes into play. This makes us approach the film's real conflict with increasing dread as we learn that Murphy's character will be punished with death if he says more than a thousand words.
I'll catch you up. Murphy plays Jack McCall, a loquacious literary agent who uses his voice to strike book deals for his company, and sadly somewhat neglects his wife and kid. He becomes intrigued with the work of Dr. Sinja (Curtis), whose teachings and philosophies have attracted immense crowds of people. During a discussion with Sinja at one of his many spiritual relaxation classes about striking a possible deal, Jack pricks his finger on a Bodhi tree. Upon returning home, a tree of the same kind spouts in his backyard occupying many, many leaves.
Jack calls Sinja over to his house to ask him why he put the tree here, but Sinja states that he had nothing to do with it. It isn't before long that Sinja notices whenever Jack speaks, leaves fall off the tree. What happens when trees lose their leaves? They die. And that's, supposedly, what will happen to Jack. It's amazing how unclear this scene is. Just because the tree will lose all of its leaves and die eventually, how does Sinja know that will happen to Jack? Also, Sinja makes a guess that there are a thousand leaves left on the tree. And, apparently, that's exactly how many there were.
The film's comedy stems from Jack not being able to talk, thus having to find ways to communicate with people around him. He can't write notes either. So, the only way he can get his point across is to mime or play charades with them. By far the funniest scene is when Jack is trying to strike a deal over the phone and resorts to talking action figures to speak for him. It isn't that he can't talk, it's just he is trying to conserve his words as much as possible. Also, this means that he can't, or maybe chooses not to, speak about twenty words or so to explain this mess to his wife. All he does is play stupid, clueless, and ignorant.
It is so crushing to not hear Murphy's motor-mouth during much of this film. This also greatly kills the film in the dialog field. When you limit Murphy vocally, you must rely on him physically. His facial expressions work well, sometimes, but other times, like during the recurring Starbucks scenes, the antics become labored and ordinary. If you can't really imagine the idea of Murphy playing a character who is limited in his dialog, try to imagine a silent film made by Kevin Smith.
A Thousand Words also strangely parallels with the film Click, with Adam Sandler, both written by Steve Koren. In Click, Sandler was a workaholic father, hellbent on completing a project with no time for his kids or wife, who finds a life-altering device that allows him to control his life and greatly limit it. He uses it frequently and his life becomes more and more out of control, before finally reaching the somewhat heartbreaking and depressing climax. The premise is not too far off from A Thousand Words, only Murphy's blockade isn't the excessive use of a device, but his own voice.
The film throws in "blink and you miss it" type morals like form some sort of respect for spirituality, appreciate life, choose words wisely, etc. None of the morals are very memorable or creative. By the end, we've become so annoyed with the contrivance of our immensely talented actor hardly able to speak we've become disinterested and careless.
Director Brian Robbins, of Good Burger and The Perfect Score, originally shot the film in 2008 and it sat in limbo up until 2012. That was right around the time Murphy was doing anything and everything with the crass, desperate mess of Norbit and the forgettable and overly obvious Meet Dave - both also directed by Robbins. A Thousand Words would've fit in perfectly with that lineup, but easily being the best of the three. Murphy continues to find himself neutered in many films. Either doing lame, uninspired comedies or dopey, barely mediocre kids film. He needs to find work that allows him to be himself, without distracting plot devices getting in the way of that. And occupying a character who hopefully says over a thousand words.
Staring: Eddie Murphy, Kerry Washington, Cliff Curtis, Clark Duke, and Allison Janney. Directed by: Brian Robbins.
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