Daddy Day Care

Ignoring the old adage about never working with children or animals, Eddie Murphy has reaped huge paydays in recent years by voicing sassy animals in Shrek and Mulan and playing second fiddle to the wisecracking animal kingdom in the relentlessly affable Doctor Doolittle movies. Having cornered the market on kid-friendly animal hijinks, Murphy targets the coveted preschool demographic with Daddy Day Care, a big-screen sitcom so sleepy and juvenile it might as well come with its own nap break. Anonymously directed by Dr. Doolittle 2's Steve Carr, the film casts Murphy as a loving, upper-middle-class father who loses his job in advertising–that inexhaustible source of cinematic yuppies in need of life lessons–and starts the titular daycare center with former coworker Jeff Garlin. What begins as My Two Mr. Moms gradually morphs into Three Men And A Whole Bunch of Little Ladies And Gentlemen once Murphy and Garlin are joined by Steve Zahn, who has some nice moments as a goofy space cadet whose knowledge of Klingon proves unexpectedly useful. Jonathan Katz's bone-dry delivery provides the film's one laugh during a puppet show that echoes his character's pathetic personal life, but for the most part, Daddy Day Care seems content to mine the comic possibilities of dirty diapers, flatulence, and explosive bowel movements. Alternately scatological and syrupy-sweet, the film gets mawkishly sentimental in its second half, when Murphy must choose between returning to his job and spending all his time with his gratingly precocious son. Long gone is the live-wire energy and thrilling unpredictability that defined Murphy's early work; they're replaced by homogenized safeness from a sanitized star who's rapidly threatening to become his generation's answer to Dean Jones.

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