Director Brian Robbins, who last directed the 2008 bomb Meet Dave and the 2007 bomb Norbit--both of which starred Eddie Murphy--was hoping that three time's the charm with his latest directorial effort, A Thousand Words. Taking a page out of the Liar Liar handbook (from which Yes Man also seemed birthed), A Thousand Words follows the story of a fast-talking, schmoozing book publishing agent who believes he can sign a popular spiritualist's novel to his publishing company. Murphy plays the lead, Jack McCall, and sets up this story of a self-centered man who only really seems to care about himself and making a fortune than anyone else around him. He takes advantage of his assistant, Aaron, who serves as a bit of a lackey to McCall, while at home he resists trading in his bachelor lifestyle for his newfound fatherhood alongside his wife Caroline. After visiting this spiritualist, Sinja, and getting him to sign with him, he touches a tree which seems to mysteriously unite with his being. That night, while arguing with Caroline over moving out of their home to raise their son in a more family-friendly environment, the tree tears through their backyard and takes root on his property. With every word Jack speaks, a leaf falls from the tree, and it soon would appear that when the tree loses all of its leaves, he may die along with it.
With an interesting, albeit hokey, premise such as this one, it comes as no surprise that the word-spitting comic nature of Murphy being forced to act without speaking in every day-to-day situation may bring to mind a movie like Liar Liar. As we watch Jack go through his daily routines in the beginning before being forced to not speak at all (or very, very minimally), we then see those same kinds of situations and interactions but now with him not being able to speak. To throw a wrench in the works, Jack can't even write a word without it causing the leaves on his tree to fall. This go from silly to absurd at times, too, but it's often done as a means of creating laughs for the audience at the main character's expense. The problem Robbins has as director here most, though, is balance. Some scenes are quite silly or funny, but then the next scene may be borderline depressing or a strange mix of drama and comedy. It's tough to get the tone in a film like this to be consistent or just right, but Robbins and Murphy still manage to do a fair job at pulling it all off by the film's end. Liar Liar focused primarily on comedy before shooting straight for the heart in the finale, but A Thousand Words may try a little too hard to cover a wider array of emotions throughout.
Love him or hate him, Eddie Murphy was an inspired choice for such a premise. The idea of the story is to place thoughtful importance on the words we speak. But some of the ways that things go awry in Jack's world may be questionable, with people's reactions--including his own--to situations potentially being a bit too over-the-top to really accept. Knowing his words are numbered, you still might expect him to try harder to speak during crucial moments instead of potentially losing everything when things get rough (and then, therefore, wasting most of his remaining words in a fit of rage). Still, Murphy's schtick relies entirely on his physical comedy and facial expressions once his words are numbered. For the most part, it does work, but you may have to be a diehard fan of his to fully appreciate it (Also much like Carrey in Liar Liar). Robbins does a pretty good job surrounding Murphy with solid talent to play off of, but the choice of having Clark Duke play Jack's assistant Aaron is a questionable one. At first, Aaron is borderline endearing...that is, until Jack stops talking and we see the real Aaron shine through. From then on until the movie's final scenes, Aaron spouts random profanity and sexual references, almost seemingly to compensate for Murphy's lack of being able to do so while keeping his mouth shut. He becomes an overused, unwelcomed character before too long. Kerry Washington plays well as Murphy's wife, but her character is written to be a bit more impuslive than one would expect a spouse to be. In other words, she seems to do things and react in certain ways only to serve the plot, which makes her character feel less genuine at times.
But this premise gimmick does allow for some pretty clever comedic moments too. One scene finds Jack relying entirely on communicating through talking plush toys and movie paraphernalia to close a deal over the phone. It's ridiculous, but one of the movie's funnier moments. Other pretty amusing moments showcase how things that are done to the tree also happen to Jack, whether it's hitting the tree with an ax causing him to go flying through the air, or watering it causing droplets to form on his face. It seems selective, however, but Robbins utilizes a scene where the tree is fumigated with pest killer to cause Jack to appear stoned during a crucial business transaction. Again, it's ridiculous and just plain silly, but it works on a comedic level. Overall, it's a film you don't take too seriously, in fact lends to some of the tonal inconsistencies. Robbins and Murphy clearly want you to take the movie lightly until Jack's metamorphosis comes to a head during the finale.
By the time Jack begins to realize why things are happening to him, we find that the real message of the story also isn't too far off from 1997's Liar Liar. While that film placed a huge importance on fatherhood, A Thousand Words places the importance on family as a whole, even going deeper into unresolved issues and relationships therein. It may seem like a serious tonal shift by the story's finale, but it holds a lot of weight to it too, as you see Jack making sure his potentially final words count. The truth is, our words do have a lot of power in them, and this story does cause you to consider the impact that they have. The ending ends up being a pretty impactful one as Jack nears the falling of his final leaves.
Sadly, Robbins and Murphy depart from the family-friendly packaging of Meet Dave to allow A Thousand Words to be rife with profanity and crude jokes. While no official use of the "F" word is spoken (Jack gives "the finger" to the tree, causing two leaves to fall), there are over fifteen uses of the "S" word and several uses of just about every other possible profane word acceptable in a PG-13 movie, including quite a bit of blasphemy. There are numerous sexual references as jokes, as well as Caroline being shown in a small, sexy, bikini-like S&M outfit as she tries to seduce her husband in a hotel room. She stips him down to just his boxers and handcuffs him to a chair, but his lack of talking causes her to get offended and abort the sexual encounter. Finally, any violence included is for comedic purposes (and not really worth noting), and we just see a tiny bit of blood by way of scratches and such on Jack.
Filmed in 2008, A Thousand Words didn't debut in theaters until early 2012, for various potential reasons (some studio change-overs and also poor test screenings), but this movie was the third consecutive strike for the Robbins/Murphy team at the box office. While I can't say I've seen Norbit, I thought Meet Dave was certainly watchable, and I found A Thousand Words to hold a surprising amount of merit given its content and poor box office performance. Granted, it's certainly a flawed movie, but hidden beneath those problems is a message about the power of our words that is one many of us can take to heart. Ironically, the profanity that is laced throughout the film dogs the message enough to keep it from being recommended, but the film was still far better than its poor reception may make it out to be.
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 6/24/12)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
A Thousand Words is available on DVD, Blu-Ray (both with Ultra-Violet), and through your usual digital movie providers. The film looks very crisp and colorful in HD and is the ideal viewing option. However, there are several scenes where the color is entirely blown out (particularly when Jack visits Sinja's place). At its worst, HD still beats the standard DVD, but it was more noticeable than usual that the picture wasn't the best HD experience you can see on Blu-Ray. Otherwise, the other scenes look pretty great. The extras on the A Thousand Words Blu-Ray disc are quite slim, with just Deleted Scenes and an Alternate Ending included here. It's not uncommon for poorly-received movies to get a week home entertainment release, so it's no surprise that the extras are next to none for A Thousand Words.
Deleted Scenes (12:52) - There are eleven deleted scenes on the Blu-Ray disc, clocking in at just under 13 minutes. The first one is just an extended version of the scene where Caroline tries to get Jack to help with Tyler's diaper change (1 "S" word and 1 "Oh my G-d!"), and just has him making more excuses why he shouldn't help. "Expose Your Soul" shows Jack arriving at Sinja's camp and trying to join in the meditation (1 "h*ll"). "Five Pages!" has him returning to Sinja's place and serves as a follow-up to the previous deleted scene (1 "a" word). "Blind Man Crossing Extended" is mostly the same as the film's version but includes a car flying over Jack and the blind man's heads as cars crash around them (the effect is unfinished here too). "How Do I Look?" is an amusing scene where a coworker asks Jack how he looks before having a hot date, but he visibly has broccoli stuck in his teeth. "Art of War" has Jack's boss popping in to his office and trying to get him to tell her about Sinja's book, but he tries to evade her by not talking. It ends with a goofy stare-down which felt way too out of place (1 "S.O.B."). "Leaf Blower" is a super short snippet that shows Jack getting air blown on him while sitting in a restaurant because someone's using a leaf blower on the tree. "Jack Gets Fired" is an entirely alternate way of showing Jack losing his job. Instead of the tree getting fumigated and him getting "high" at the restaurant during the book deal, he goes to Samantha's house to try to intercept her receipt of the book (1 "a" word). "At Caroline's Work" takes place after Jack's diner date with Sinja. He visits Caroline at work and brings flowers. He stages two mannequins to have one presenting roses to the other, but as he leads her over to see them, the mannequins fall over and it looks like they are making out (or having sex) on top of one another, which just disgusts Caroline. "Stuffed Animal Talk" has Jack taking Caroline to a stuffed animal stand where he uses them to convey a message to her (like one reads "I Love You" and then he holds up a fox to tell her he thinks she's a fox. She then does the same with a devil, pig, skunk and donkey back at him) (1 "jack*ss). Finally, "Train Tracks" shows Jack lying on the tracks of a train/trolley that is carrying Caroline, which stops when it sees him. All of the deleted scenes are pretty short and don't add a whole lot to the movie, but are decent additions as "deleted scenes" extras.
Alternate Ending (2:03) - This takes place right after Jack's resolution with the tree. It shows that Aaron has become just like Jack. It's a shorter ending that is slightly less cheesy, but much less endearing than the one in the featured film (1 "h*ll," 1 "a" word).
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 6/24/12)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: Jack's mom comments that the margaritas, "unlike me, are virgins." and then calls to an older man nearby who's dancing and says "I can see your cojones in that pantsuit. It's like you're smuggling walnuts in a polyester purse!" to which we see a round bulge in his pants; While discussing moving to a new house, Jack tells Caroline, "But we made Tyler in this house! We made Tyler in this room! Actually, we made Tyler on this table!"; Jack makes a comment about Aaron reading "Juggs" Magazine and Aaron agrees it's a quick read; Jack says to his assistant Aaron, "Please tell me you're pulling my p*cker on this one!" and his assistant says, "I wish I could. Well, not your p*cker..."; Aaron assumes Jack's silence is because he is mad at him, so he comments on Jack having possibly found his "furry tapes." When a girl walks in, Aaron panics and tells her that "the jig is up" and Jack knows about it. He proceeds to say that she dresses up as the "dirtier" animals and he says he can't help it due to his insatiable sexual hunger; Aaron tells some business guys that Jack cannot talk because he was screaming for more lap dances last night (which isn't true); Aaron comments that he only went to community college because his grandma was sleeping with the dean; Caroline's friend comments that Jack isn't "getting any *ss" because of having a baby. Then she asks her if she's wearing granny panties and a nursing bra and Caroline refuses to comment. She then shows Caroline a bag, who then opens it and says she's not that kind of girl (We don't see what's inside). Her friend says "That's why they make Tequila. Tequila plus *ss equals happiness;" We hear a song playing about making love with a line that goes 'like the Energizer bunny I keep going" which fades out as Jack knocks on a hotel door. It turns out to be a bare-chested man in a robe and a sailor hat sipping a martini and comments that Jack is a "slip of a thing" and sounds excited by his appearance. Jack then leaves; We see Caroline in a small, sexy bikini S&M-type outfit and she tells Jack that the more he says, the more she'll do to him. She takes off his clothes down to his boxers and handcuffs him to a chair. She then tells him to talk dirty to her, even screams it at him, but he can't bring himself to utter any words. She then gets mad and throws him out of the room, leaving him in just his boxers and socks. He then ends up in an elevator with the man in the robe from the previous scene who looks at him suggestively.
Vulgarity/Language: 16 "S" words, 1 "J-sus," 1 "L-rd J-sus," 4 "cr*p, 8 "a" words, 4 "h*ll," 3 "d*mn," 1 "d*ck," 2 "d*ckhead," 2 "b*tch," 2 "p*cker," 3 "g*dd*mn," 4 "Oh my G-d," 11 "G-d," "G-d in Heaven"; Jack gives the middle finger to a tree and two leaves fall
Alcohol/Drugs: A friend tells Caroline to use Tequila; We see a drunk man in a robe sipping a martini; Jack's landscaper shoots bug spray on the tree, which causes Jack to act stoned (the song "Until I Got High" is playing during the scene) and Jack begins to hallucinate and act silly; While Jack tries to convey the tree/leaves story to Aaron, he says "I get it, I once took acid in college and thought my hair had a heartbeat;" Jack comes home completely drunk and grabs a few more bottles to keep drinking. He then pours a bottle all over the tree.
Blood/Gore: We see a small drop of blood on a tree after Jack leans on it; We see a scabby cut on Jack's hip; We see a scratch on the side of Jack's face from a cat; We see a spot of dried blood on the tree.
Violence: The ground violently shakes and we see a tree rip through the ground; Jack hits a tree with an ax and is thrown backward. We then see a cut on his hip; A blind person crossing the street almost causes him to get hit by many passing cars. We then see cars crashing into each other because of it; Jack tries to help a cat out of a tree and it pounces on him, causing the ladder he's on to fall to the ground; Jack bangs on the table as Sinja is rambling. He soon then lunges across the table and threatens him; Jack breaks a bottle on the tree, which hurts his head; Aaron and Jack struggle around his house, and Aaron tackles him to the floor; Aaron hits his assistant in the face with a wasabi pea.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.