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Entries in Eddie Murphy (3)

Friday
Mar092012

A Thousand Words

Back in college, I was lucky enough to nab a one-on-one, in person interview with Clark Duke, who was in DC promoting his upcoming film, Hot Tub Time Machine. As a nervous, first-time-interviewing college student, I asked your typical interview questions because I was unable to handle myself in such situations. Near the end of the interview, I asked him what he had coming next because, aside from the little seen Sex Drive, he hadn’t done much and wasn’t well known (Kick-Ass had not yet been released). He said to me that later that year, a movie he had done with Eddie Murphy called A Thousand Words would be released. This was in January of 2010. Now here we are, over two years later, and it’s just now seeing the light of day. Originally filmed in 2008 and delayed multiple times, it’s been sitting on the shelf for four years. Directed by Brian Robbins, the same man behind recent Eddie Murphy travesties Norbit and Meet Dave (and taken with the fact that it wasn’t screened for critics), chances were A Thousand Words would be unwatchable dreck, but it’s not. I know I’m in the minority on this one and it’s certainly not a great movie, but there’s more to it than Robbins’ other directorial efforts, which is a happy surprise.

Murphy plays Jack McCall, a literary agent who claims he can sign anybody to do anything. When he discovers the popularity of a New Age spiritual guru, Dr. Sinja, played by Cliff Curtis, who has just written a new self help book, he sets off to make him his next big paycheck. When he arrives, he stumbles upon a tree that cuts him when he touches it. Upon arriving home, he mysteriously finds that same tree in his back yard. At first, he doesn’t think much of it, but soon he realizes that with every word he speaks, a leaf falls off. He and the tree are connected, so whatever happens to it, happens to him. Once it loses its leaves, it will die and so will Jack.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, A Thousand Words is not very funny. While it’s not as immature as Norbit or as family friendly as Meet Dave, it never seems to take off. It has a chuckle or two here and there (one scene in particular where Jack’s assistant, played by Clark Duke, acts like Jack in a high pressure situation, which includes excessive language and over-the-top mannerisms—in typical Eddie Murphy style—is quite funny), but the comedy fails far more often than it succeeds. For about half of the film’s 90 minute runtime, it’s practically unwatchable, but then something strange happens. It transitions from a zany comedy to a well meaning and moderately effective drama.

Jack is someone who takes language for granted. His job requires him to say whatever is necessary to close a deal, even if it means lying through his teeth, but when he discovers his connection with the tree, his words are taken away. His relationship with his wife, played by the beautiful Kerry Washington, is simultaneously falling apart and she’s threatening to take their infant son and leave. He has used his words throughout his entire career to accomplish many things, but none ever really meant anything to him. When he actually needs his words to save the one thing in the world that’s important to him, he finds he doesn’t have enough left. Although this certainly isn’t the most profound movie in the world, I appreciated the thematic juxtaposition of a man who spoke and spoke without saying much of anything at all discovering how powerful his words can be.

There’s an additional side story involving Jack’s mentally weakening mother that doesn’t really work and has no true bearing on the story at hand (despite a solid performance from screen veteran Ruby Dee) and a couple of out of place visions are far too on the nose to be effective, but A Thousand Words surprised me with its sincerity. This isn’t just crudeness for the sake of crudeness like Norbit. This is a moderately intelligent movie that actually aims to make a point. It may not fully live up to its potential, but it also far exceeds its expectations. I may be chastised for this one, but consider this my recommendation.

A Thousand Words receives 3/5

Friday
Nov042011

Tower Heist

Movies are such an inconsistent thing. Some are great, some not so much. Some end up surprising you while the quality of others can be deduced simply by watching trailers. Then there are those that are forgotten as soon as you walk out of the theater. Director Brett Ratner’s new film, Tower Heist, is definitely a member of the latter breed. It’s not a particularly bad film, but it’s certainly nothing worthy of praise. It moves, it makes sounds, the credits roll and it’s gone.

The plot follows the employees of a high-rise building, where its tenants expect 24 hour assistance, 7 days a week. There’s Josh (Ben Stiller), the building manager, Charlie (Casey Affleck), Josh’s brother-in-law, Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), a newly bankrupt Wall Street businessman, Enrique (Michael Peña), a new employee whose only previous work experience is at Burger King, and Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe), a cleaning maid. All of them have given their hard earned money to their boss, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), and trusted him to invest it wisely for them. However, they quickly realize they’ve been the victims of a Ponzi scheme and have lost their money, putting them all in dire financial situations. Deciding to take matters into their own hands, they partner with Slide (Eddie Murphy), a man with expertise in thievery, to steal Shaw’s fortune.

In what is essentially Rush Hour meets Ocean’s Eleven, Tower Heist is nothing more than a mild pleasantry, which, in this cinematic day and age, is both above average and not enough. It has a few good jokes and it attempts to tap into the economic woes many Americans are feeling today, though it’s not so much a smart deliberation on the 2008 collapse as it is an economic revenge fantasy, but at least it’s relatable. What this movie does so well is flip the real world on its head and bring to justice those who have gained from the suffering of others. It creates an ugly man, seemingly gentle on the surface, but a monster underneath, and puts him in his place. And it does it all with a smile. It doesn’t make any assessment on the current situation; it only uses it as a tool for over-the-top shenanigans.

And over-the-top does it get. This thing gets so crazy, it could be argued it’s more of an economic revenge fantasy than last week’s similarly themed sci-fi fantasy, In Time. The ending sequence is so ludicrous it’s hard to take seriously, but that’s precisely the point. If In Time dissected the current financial situation with political statements and an allegorical narrative, Tower Heist is pure fluff. It’s for those who aren’t aware of the specifics of how we got to where we are, but know they should be angry at someone. A thinking person’s movie this isn’t, but that’s not to say the silly approach to such a serious issue isn’t welcome all the same.

Despite its intention to be simple fun, the heist depicted in the back half of the film is only moderately interesting. It’s not carried out with precision like in other heist movies, but rather in the way one can only assume the script was written: without a plan and in haste. It’s pulled through, however, thanks to its talented and diversified cast. It’s fun watching Eddie Murphy finally let loose again after hiding behind so many fat suits and subduing himself with wretched family comedies. In this movie, as mediocre as it is, he reminds us why we loved him so much all those years ago. The rest of the cast is good as well, though Ben Stiller’s on-again, off-again New York accent is distracting to the point of amateurism. Why an actor who has been around for so long fell into such an obvious trap is beyond me, but he nevertheless does what he can. The problem is there just isn’t much for him (or anyone else) to do that doesn’t involve outlandish situations and helpful narrative coincidences. Tower Heist is diverting fun while it lasts, but it’s not funny enough, smart enough or exciting enough to be anything more.

Tower Heist receives 3/5

Friday
May212010

Shrek Forever After

I have an odd relationship with Shrek. I love the characters, I love the universe and I love the idea, but I wouldn’t say I love any of the movies. After revisiting the previous three entries to prepare for Shrek Forever After, I would say the first two films are equally good in their own different ways, but neither reach the greatness of, say, a Pixar film. The third has its moments, but is not recommendable. This installment picks up a bit of the slack from the previous film and, though still only mediocre, it’s enjoyable enough for a view.

The last time we saw our hero (voiced by Mike Myers), he was preparing for fatherhood with his wife Fiona (voiced by Cameron Diaz), understandably hesitant, but nevertheless excited. Now it’s been a year since his children came into the world and his humdrum daily routine is starting to wear thin. Every day he is woken up at the crack of dawn by his kids, Donkey (voiced by Eddie Murphy) bursts through the door uninvited with his dragon/donkey hybrid children and a celebrity tour bus cruises his swamp in the hopes of getting a glimpse at the newly minted hero of Far, Far Away. But Shrek selfishly wants to be himself again before all of this happened. He wants people to fear him when he walks into town, not cheer him. Rumpelstiltskin (voiced by Walt Dohrn) learns of his wish and makes him a deal: give up one day of his past in exchange for 24 hours of being his old self again. Shrek agrees, but Rumpelstiltskin, being the master manipulator he is, takes away the most important day of Shrek’s life: his birth. This means when the 24 hour period is up he will disappear forever.

When Shrek originally debuted back in 2001, it was like a breath of fresh air. The fairy tale spoof had never been done before, or at least done as well. It took all of the beloved tales we grew up with and twisted them to fit their story, making fun of their tropes while using them to craft a thrilling adventure. It worked like magic and Shrek became a hit. But as the series went on, its originality began to dwindle. It became too bogged down by pop culture references and began to distance itself from its once unique parody. Shrek Forever After continues the tradition. The fun it had with fairy tales is all but gone in this iteration, replacing it with a fairly traditional story of love and enlightenment, proving that one doesn’t know what one has until it’s gone.

I would argue that the absence of parody hurts the picture, but truth be told, it doesn’t. It may drop the spoof, but it also drops the pop culture references, not entirely, but enough that they hold no real impact. The story exists in and of itself. It stays in its fairy tale world and rarely ventures out into our territory and it works, even if only slightly.

Shrek Forever After isn’t particularly funny, but it has heart and its characters are as charming and likable as ever. Donkey in particular has always been, and still is, awesome thanks in large part to the exceptional voice acting from Eddie Murphy, but it’s Mike Myers who shines as Shrek here. Despite his name adorning the title, Shrek has never had much to do outside of scream and roar at his annoying cohorts, but here he is forced to confront his own demons and make a decision that will affect not only him, but the entire kingdom of Far, Far Away. Myers voices him in a hardened, yet sympathetic way that finally, after many failed attempts, shows the beauty on the inside of the character rather than the ugly on the out.

I wouldn’t say this is a return to form, but it’s a fitting send off to the beloved ogre that has been around for nearly 10 years now. Assuming this is the last entry, it looks like Shrek might get his “happily ever after” after all.

Shrek Forever After receives 3/5