A Thousand Words

March 23, 2012

Between the disappointing returns of Tower Heist and the fallout over the Oscars, the week has already seen plenty of evidence that talk of Eddie Murphy’s comedy comeback may have been greatly exaggerated—so what’s one more piece of testimony? A Thousand Words was filmed back in 2009, excoriated in test screenings, and finally scheduled to be dumped in the January hinterlands before Murphy landed the Oscar gig, leading Paramount to move it to March to capitalize on the groundswell of popularity he would no doubt be experiencing. So, that was smart. Now it lingers as a haunting reminder not only of the resurgence that could have been, but of the movie prison that Murphy will seemingly never escape, once more ensnaring him in a high-concept comedy that relies almost entirely on Murphy making funny faces like every twitch is a Morse code cry for help.

This time, Murphy stars as a smooth-talking liar who wrongs an indeterminately ethnic guy, causing him to use his foreign person powers to make it so Murphy can only speak 1,000 more words before he dies—which leads Murphy’s character to understand the importance of always saying exactly what he means, or maybe learning sign language or something. And as directed by his Norbit and Meet Dave collaborator Brian Robbins and scripted by Click and Bruce Almighty writer Steve Koren, it combines the former’s talent for amping up Murphy’s already hyperkinetic mugging with the latter’s love for stories of jerks redeeming themselves through magic—and Eddie Murphy’s surprisingly bottomless yen for career self-destruction. Welcome back, Eddie Murphy we're already familiar with.

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