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.