'Thousand Words': Picture not worth them
By Mark Jenkins
Saturday, Mar. 10, 2012
With so many comedians babbling away on the big screen, filmmakers have to keep devising ways to make their chatter seem to matter. In "The Invention of Lying," Ricky Gervais played the only man in the world who could fib. Jim Carrey was a guy forced to tell the truth in "Liar, Liar" and one who agreed to everything in "Yes Man."
Now, in "A Thousand Words," Eddie Murphy portrays a motormouth L.A. hustler who must give up talking - or die.
As the members of "The Artist" team polish their Oscars, this might be a good time for Murphy to shut up. Dialogue hasn't worked out all that well for him in his last dozen or so flicks.
But "A Thousand Words," directed by "Norbit" survivor Brian Robbins, isn't an example of the new silent cinema; it's a long-shelved project that was actually shot back in 2008. Murphy spews enough verbiage for an entire movie in the comedy's first 15 minutes, and uses most of his remaining 1,000 words in the next 70.
Murphy's Jack McCall is a powerhouse literary agent who doesn't stop talking long enough to read the books he pitches to major publishers. His latest target is Dr. Sinja (Cliff Curtis), a stadium-packing, vaguely Indian new age guru. Sinja isn't as profound as a great Zen master, but he is as wily. He presents Jack with an unmarketably terse five-page book and a mystical Bodhi tree.
The tree, it turns out, is psychically grafted to Jack. It loses a leaf every time he releases a word, and both tree and man will perish when the last leaf falls. The injunction on speech even includes writing, so Jack can't cover for his sudden reticence with texts and tweets. He can only use sign language, animal noises and goofy faces. This is a problem not only at work, but also at home, where Jack's wife, Caroline (Kerry Washington), has picked exactly this moment to insist that her husband communicate better.
More bland than actively bad, "A Thousand Words" has a few nice moments. Curtis, Washington and Clark Duke (as Jack's wanna-be assistant and, later, surrogate mouth) do what they can with the sit-com script. Sure, there are cheap sex gags and broad slapstick routines, but the movie seems sincere about its self-help-book moral.
Sincere, yet too conventional to experience its own spiritual breakthrough. When a transformed Jack asks Caroline to listen to the silence, what the audience hears is not silence but syrupy movie music. Even when "A Thousand Words" is counseling us to just be quiet and in the moment, it can't just be quiet and in the moment.
Contains profanity, kinky sexual situations and drug-related humor.