Murphy’s Latest Not Worth A Thousand Words
- Susan Ellingburg Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2012 9 Mar
DVD Release Date: June 26, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: March 9, 2012
Rating: PG-13 (for sexual situations including dialogue, language and some drug-related humor)
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Run Time: 91 min.
Director: Brian Robbins
Actors: Eddie Murphy, Cliff Curtis, Kerry Washington, Allison Janney, Clark Duke, Jordan-Claire Green, Philip Pavel
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I’d say this one is worth two: don’t bother.
It’s a shame that a film supposedly about the value of words uses so many of them so poorly. Lies, profanity, disrespect, vulgarity . . . they’re all covered. But before we get into the many, many ways A Thousand Words offends, let’s visit the plot highlights.
Jack McCall (Eddie Murphy, Tower Heist) is a literary agent who will say anything to anyone in order to get what he wants. He is, literally, a fast talker; words spew out of him like so much projectile verbal vomit. (That pretty much describes the value of his conversation, too.)
Jack sets out to sign the newest celebrity author, a wildly popular “nondenominational New Age healer.” Dr. Sinja (Cliff Curtis, The Last Airbender) is everything one might expect from a Hollywood-friendly Eastern religion guru type—young, handsome, charming, mysterious, full of blather about “the blue pearl” and finding inner peace and truth through quiet. While visiting a swanky meditation garden—and faking a spiritual breakthrough—Jack is mildly wounded by a bodhi tree before lying his way to a book deal with the doctor. (Side note: these trees, a type of fig, are often considered holy shrines in Buddhism since a long-ago Buddha “found enlightenment” under one.)
Jack then goes on his merry way, only to later find that same tree magically planted in his back yard. (Funny how it blends beautifully into existing landscaping.) A gift? Maybe, but it’s from the cosmos rather than the doctor. Jack and the tree have a strange bond; every time he speaks, the tree loses one leaf per word. As far as he and the doctor can tell, once the leaves are all gone the tree will die—and so will Jack. (Apparently they’re unfamiliar with that whole seasonal phenomenon wherein trees lose their leaves in winter.)
So with his life on the line, Jack does his best to stop speaking. This leads to some serious issues in his career and his already-shaky marriage. While Eddie Murphy has a multitude of facial expressions at his disposal and uses them to good effect, his character still has to weigh the value of each word. Imagine how frustrating that is for his long-suffering wife (Kerry Washington, Miracle at St. Anna) who spends so much of the film simmering with anger it’s difficult to sympathize with her.
This could have been a good lesson in the power of words, spoken and unspoken. There’s even a nod to the power of forgiveness tacked on the end. Sadly, any message of value is drowned out by the vulgarity, profanity, and all-around ickiness. “This is PG-13?” a friend marveled. Unfortunately, yes.
How does A Thousand Words offend? Let me count the ways: racial slurs—not only is the Hispanic gardener a stereotype, they poke fun at his accent; then there’s the chubby white kid trying to talk like a streetwise “homey” (his word). Potty humor, greedy Christians (a “reverend” client’s book is called “Lord, Where’s My Money?”), abusive workplace relationships, gay parents, references to pornography—professional and homemade, prostitute “humor,” kinky sex, drug use . . . and then there’s the magic, all-powerful tree. At least it’s an equal opportunity offender; there are few groups left un-insulted.
That’s not to say the film is completely painful; parts of the story are actually funny. Jack’s over-the-phone negotiation using only a motley array of talking toys to speak for him is a hoot. A couple of moments are genuinely sweet; Jack’s relationship with his elderly mother, who tends to mistake him for his long-dead father, is touching. Why they had to make this otherwise charming woman offer a salacious comment about an elderly gentleman’s “cajones” and follow that up with a crotch shot is a mystery, but typical of the rest of the movie.
My advice: skip this one. Maybe you can take the money you’ll save on movie tickets and concessions and plant a tree instead.
- Drugs/Alcohol: A variety of drinks ordered and consumed in restaurants, bars, parties, and home; drunkenness; reference to casual drug use; Jack gets high due to chemicals sprayed on tree.
- Language/Profanity: Not constant but scattered throughout: the s-word multiple times, sometimes coupled with “bull” and further defined as cr**, the d-word, sometimes paired with God; the Lord’s name in vain in various forms; the b-word; male anatomy referred to as di** (sometimes in combination with “head”), “balls,” “cajones,” and “peck**”; “ this su**s”; “homey”; he**; as*; the f-bomb dropped at least once.
- Sex/Nudity: Many verbal references to doing the deed (in multiple locations, sometimes filmed while playing “furry animals”); woman says “unlike me, these margaritas are virgins” then goes on to comment on man’s ‘equipment’; reference to “Jugs” magazine (one assumes this is pornography); reference to lap dances; verbal confusion about one man pulling another’s genitals. Jack is given the wrong hotel room key and opens the door to find a man in boxers and pirate gear clearly expecting a prostitute. Female discusses whether Jack is “getting any” and comments “Tequila plus sex equal a happy girl.” Female underwear (granny panties) discussed; Jack’s wife appears in leather bikini dominatrix outfit and binds Jack with fur-lined handcuffs before ordering him to “talk dirty to me.” She also shows significant cleavage on more than one occasion. Jack ends up in a hallway wearing loose-fitting boxer shorts and has to fetch his car in that state of dress. Character admits he only got into college because his grandmother slept with the dean. Some kissing, not prolonged. Jack mimes squeezing breast at coffee shop to request milk.
- Violence: Woman promises to “run you over dead in the parking lot.” Nasty, verbally abusive relationships with employees (more than one character). Blind pedestrian causes multiple car accidents. Fistfight with broken furniture ending in a knockout. Attempt at clever wordplay combines “ashram” with “I’ll ram this up his a**.” Jack takes an axe to the tree and suffers injury as a result; he later vomits leaves in a dream sequence. Character falls backwards on ladder with cat attached to his face (botched rescue attempt). General hatefulness, harsh words, and an undercurrent of anger throughout.
- Spiritual Themes: The idea seems to have been to show that words have power and we should use them wisely, with a side dish of the power of forgiveness. It’s hard to hear either message through the clutter of coarseness. The doctor’s particular flavor of religion is not identified but it’s clearly Eastern in origin. “We create our own destiny,” he says, encouraging better living through self-awareness. Groups are shown in guided meditation in an attempt to find Nirvana. The doctor tells Jack to find the truth about himself through quiet. Jack decides, “The universe cursed me” and experiences visions as a result of meditation. He kneels before and prays to the tree. In a last-ditch attempt to turn the tide of falling leaves, Jack tries salvation through good works, which fails. Only when he forgives someone who wronged him do things start looking up. There is no mention or apparent concept of God, just a sense of karma.