Could Eddie Murphy’s career sink any lower? Perhaps not in light of the critical panning and the cold shoulder from US audiences for his long-delayed comedy A Thousand Words.
Filmed in 2008, the DreamWorks production features Murphy as a self-absorbed, fast-talking literary agent who’s warned he will die if he utters a further 1,000 words.
Directed by Brian Robbins (who collaborated with Murphy on the flop Meet Dave and the hit Norbit), the film finally opened last Friday in the US and scored a zero approval rating among the critics polled by Rotten Tomatoes.
Pundits estimated its three-day box-office tally at $US6.3 million, dwarfed by the second weekend of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax ($39 million) and a mediocre debut of around $30.6 million for Disney’s mega-expensive John Carter.
That ranks as another humiliation for the fallen superstar following Imagine That, a tepid result for Tower Heist and his withdrawal from a commitment to host this year's Oscars after the event’s producer Brett Ratner quit amid a row over a homophobic slur he had uttered.
Will A Thousand Words ever darken Australian cinemas? Don’t hold your breath. “Release plans are on hold for the moment,” Mike Selwyn, managing director of Paramount Pictures Australia, told SBS Film.
So will the movie that Paramount was stuck with after Disney bought DreamWorks go straight to DVD?
“No definite decision yet,” Selwyn responded. “We will certainly be watching the US numbers.” There’s cold comfort in the weekend estimates, Mike.
Perhaps understandably, Murphy declined to front the media to support the movie, leaving the publicity chores to New Zealander Cliff Curtis, who plays a New Age guru who tells Murphy’s character that he’s been cursed.
“This idea that you've got to be silent and choose your words seems intriguing,” Curtis said in one interview.
“Monks in many cultures do this – take a vow of silence and not speak for days, months or decades. It's a beautiful and poetic premise to build a broad comedy around.”
Critics begged to differ, typified by The New York Times’ Andy Webster who declared, “Among the many lessons in A Thousand Words is how to manufacture a slick and generic Hollywood comedy-drama. In the simplicity of its premise it embodies the notion of high-concept entertainment. In its execution it demonstrates how technical efficiency can drain the life from a story.
“Mr. Murphy’s mugging skills, at times evoking Harpo Marx, are in fine fettle, and he easily finds Jack’s dark undercurrents. But the director, Brian Robbins, perhaps as a result of his prime-time pedigree, has so carefully engineered this manipulative machine that little emotional residue remains — only a product inoffensive, unsurprising and uninspiring.”
USA Today's Claudia Puig was equally dismissive, opining, “This Eddie Murphy comedy is essentially 1997's Liar Liar with the presence of a guru who provides lacklustre words of wisdom. The concept is unoriginal, the scenarios aren't funny, and its message is banal. Plus, Murphy alternately hams it up and phones it in.”
More damning words came from Gawker.com’s Tom Grierson, who said, “I hate to break it to folks, but I think that Eddie Murphy may be gone forever. And maybe it's time we started accepting that.”
Concluded Grierson, “Eddie Murphy was a brilliant comic mastermind who was on Saturday Night Live and in some great movies and stand-up specials. But he's also the guy who's done a lot of dreck for a long time. He seems OK with that. The rest of us will have to be, too.”
Eddie may well have the last laugh if his career regains momentum although, according to imdb.com, he has only one film lined up: Hong Kong Phooey, a live-action feature based on a Hanna-Barbera animated series.