Article first published as Blu-ray Review: A Thousand Words (2012) on Blogcritics.
It must have looked better on paper. Or maybe Eddie Murphy really can’t tell a good script from a bad one. Either way, A Thousand Words just doesn’t work. The concept, first of all, isn’t well developed. Jack McCall (Murphy) is a motormouth literary agent who never actually reads any of the work written by the clients he represents. After visiting self-help guru Dr. Sinja (Cliff Curtis) in hopes of landing him as a client, a tree pops up in Jack’s backyard. One leaf falls for every word he speaks. Calling upon Dr. Sinja, at whose place of business he first encountered (and received a splinter from) this mysterious tree, Jack is informed that when all the leaves are gone, he will drop dead.
With an estimated 1,000 leaves on the tree, Jack must make every word count as he struggles to find a way to reverse the curse. He relies on his assistant Aaron (Clark Duke) to do the talking for him at business meetings. His wife Caroline (Kerry Washington) is distraught over her husband’s seeming unwillingness to communicate with her. We’re meant to understand, I think, that Jack was a loudmouth who had little respect for the people around him as he verbally badgered them. Why else should he deserve to face death simply for talking? But as played by Murphy, Jack seems like a pretty good natured guy who happens to have a propensity for hard selling his potential clients. The movie never really makes it clear if Dr. Sinja is legit or not, but one thing’s for sure—his book is only five pages long. Yes, Jack resorts to hyperbole in order to snag him as a client, but Sinja seems like a born bullshit artist too.
A Thousand Words is the kind of movie Jim Carrey would’ve likely rejected back when he was a big draw with comedies like Liar Liar. Murphy tries very hard to breathe life into it, and some of his frenzied miming is vaguely chuckle worthy. Clark Duke gets the most actual laughs as, in light of his boss’s sudden muteness, he finally tries to emulate Jack’s confident salesmanship. But the whole thing is mired in weak punch lines and an ultimately watery message. It turns out that Jack has some unresolved daddy issues, which figure prominently in his attempt at redemption. In the end, it’s unclear whether Jack simply talked too much or if his father was sending him a message from beyond the grave. If that sounds confusing, that’s exactly what I’m getting at. The filmmakers don’t seem to know what their own work was supposed to be saying. If it was funnier, such shortcomings wouldn’t matter as much.
A Thousand Words looks pretty much immaculate on Blu-ray. Clark Mathis’ cinematography favors a very mildly soft focus, glowing look, and this is well represented in the 1080p transfer. Detail is relatively strong even when the lighting threatens to blow out the image, such as a bar scene where Murphy and Allison Janney (who plays Jack’s boss) sit and chat. Colors are generally subdued but still appear very natural. Audio is presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio mix. Being a dialogue-driven comedy, there isn’t all that much razzle-dazzle to the sound design. That said, the surrounds are suitably active and the dialogue and music are clear and well balanced.
Supplemental features are quite light, with only a 12 minute selection of deleted scenes and a short alternate ending. Thankfully a “play all” feature is included for the deleted scenes, but only folks with a strong compulsion to view everything included on a disc are likely to sit through them all. Ninety-one minutes of A Thousand Words are more than enough for the average viewer and watching the cutting room floor material is something akin to mild torture.