A Thousand Words

Eddie Murphy stars in "A Thousand Words." 

Paramount Pictures

“A Thousand Words” is not unspeakably awful.

In fact, somewhere in this comedy is a meaningful, heartfelt story. As it is, the movie is a misfire, which wastes Eddie Murphy’s talents (although not in such a way as the awful “Norbit”).

Murphy stars as fast-talking Jack McCall, a literary agent whose swift patter can get just about anybody to do anything he wants. He and his wife live a good life with their little son, and Jack makes regular visits to his mother (Ruby Dee) in a nursing home, where she usually thinks he’s his father.

Jack really isn’t a very nice guy. He’s mean to his assistant (Clark Duke, “Hot Tub Time Machine”) and doesn’t mind taking advantage of people every chance he gets. His project at the moment is to land a deal with a New Age writer (Cliff Curtis) who has written a book. Jack goes to the author’s ashram, or spiritual retreat, pretending to be a follower, but instead he makes a pitch.

He does indeed land the book deal. But something else lands in Jack’s yard: a bodhi tree. (If you’re not familiar with this tree, its name translates as “enlightened” or “awakened,” and it has a deep connection to Buddhism.) The tree has only a thousand leaves, and one leaf falls for each word that Jack speaks or writes. To Jack’s horror, he realizes that when the tree is barren, he will die.

He begs the spiritual leader for help, but in the meantime he must go about his business as a professional, a father and a husband. He ends up feigning laryngitis as much as possible and sharing his predicament with his assistant. Some of the scenes that are truly funny rely on Murphy pantomiming communications to his co-workers and loved ones.

But the tone is dreadfully uneven, ranging from lighthearted to dark intensity as Jack broods over his past and the possibility of his quickly approaching death. And there are a few scenes in which he sees himself as a child that simply don’t make sense.

The movie has been sitting around since 2008, so I suspect the studio figured they’d throw it out on the big screen during a less-than-blockbuster weekend and see whether it makes any money.

Its strange concept and uneven plot aren’t going to earn it much in the way of box-office proceeds, let alone word of mouth.