A Thousand Words
Paramount // PG-13 // $39.99 // June 26, 2012
Review by William Harrison | posted September 29, 2012
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At the time of this review, A Thousand Words holds the rare zero-percent distinction on Rotten Tomatoes. I really want Eddie Murphy to make a good comedy again, but this stinker, which was shot in 2008, isn't it. Murphy plays hotshot literary agent Jack McCall, who uses B.S. to seal the deal. McCall never stops talking, until the film has the bright idea to make his life depend on silence. A Thousand Words feels like it was in the can for a thousand years, with stale jokes about Britney Spears and Hannah Montana, and, when it reduces Murphy to a pantomime, the film insults both its star and its audience.

McCall sees dollar signs surrounding self-help guru Dr. Sinja (Cliff Curtis), and visits his spiritual center in hopes of scoring the rights to Sinja's newest book. McCall offends Sinja with disingenuous compliments about his unfinished, unreleased book, so Sinja has a magic Bodhi tree placed in McCall's yard. Each word McCall speaks causes a leaf to fall from the tree's branches, and when all the leaves are gone, McCall will die along with the tree. When the motor-mouth starts watching his words, his career and relationship with his wife, Caroline (Kerry Washington), begin to fall apart.

A Thousand Words fails as a comedy because it isn't funny. The film's premise allows Murphy to gesticulate wildly and roll his eyes in lieu of speaking, but the scenarios are mundane. For a man poised to meet the grim reaper, McCall wastes a lot of time doing unimportant things. The audience is treated to several trips to Starbucks, where McCall tries to act out his order to Kenneth from NBC's "30 Rock" (Jack McBrayer). I doubt jokes about overpriced CDs and Mocha-Chip muffins were funny in 2008, and they sure as hell are not funny four years later. Very few laughs result when McCall uses his assistant, Aaron (Clark Duke), as a mouthpiece during several important meetings. Aaron insults potential clients by adopting a wannabe-gangster attitude and mimicking McCall's self-satisfied swagger. Someone imitating Eddie Murphy is not as funny as Eddie Murphy playing himself, and A Thousand Words robs Murphy of his most useful instrument.

The film is a lousy drama, too, and relies on a trite message of absolution and its floundering characters to move the story forward. Pre-voodoo McCall is a dick at work, but somehow has a beautiful wife at home. She leaves and takes their kid when McCall starts acting crazy, which is convenient since the movie never deals with McCall's failures as a husband and father in any meaningful way. There's also a subplot about McCall's mother (Ruby Dee), who lives in a nursing home and confuses McCall for her former husband, who left the family when McCall was a baby. A Thousand Words somehow becomes less about McCall's incessant blabbing than his desire to forgive his own father. None of it matters.

A Thousand Words is not aggressively bad, but it is exceptionally lazy. Murphy's energy is unfailing, even when his scripts are not, and the actor makes the most out of the uninspired writing. A Thousand Words, even before its four-year delay, was a film designed for audiences to watch and forget. The pop culture jokes were destined to spoil, and the tired, listen-don't-speak message is far from groundbreaking. A Thousand Words is dull and forgettable. Perhaps the next great Eddie Murphy comedy is right around the corner. I'll keep waiting.



At least the film looks nice on Blu-ray. The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is crystal clear and highly detailed. The film is full of bold, warm colors, and these appear perfectly saturated. Skin tones are accurate, and the image displays excellent texture in facial features, backgrounds and fabrics. Black levels are strong, and no compression artifacts surface.


The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is quite active for a comedy, and the surround speakers are used to great effect for ambient effects. Dialogue is clear and nicely balanced, and directional dialogue pans throughout the sound field. Ambient effects place viewers amid the scene, and clarity is surprisingly good, even in the rear speakers. The subwoofer occasionally comes to life for music and a couple of action effects. French, Spanish and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks are also available, as are English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.


Not much. All you get are some deleted scenes (12:52/HD), an alternate ending (2:03/HD) and an UltraViolet digital copy.


A Thousand Words is neither Eddie Murphy's worst comedy nor close to his best. Murphy's hotshot literary agent loses the privilege of mindless chatter when he offends a spiritual guru, who sends Murphy a tree that sheds leaves when he speaks. When the last leaf is gone, Murphy will die. Stuck without a voice for much of the film, Murphy relies on broad, unfunny physical acting in the film's equally uninteresting scenarios. Skip It.

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