Daddy Day Care
Directed by Steve Carr. Starring Eddie Murphy, Jeff Garlin, Anjelica Huston, Steve Zahn, Regina King, Kevin Nealon, Lacey Chabert, Khamani Griffin, Shane Baumel, Cesar Flores, Elle Fanning, Jimmy Bennett. (2003, PG, 91 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 9, 2003
Barely breaking a sweat in terms of its effort, Eddie Murphy’s latest, Daddy Day Care, offers a lackluster start to the summer comedy season. This film will appeal to the youngest members of any brood, but is not likely to tickle any funny bones that might have grown out of their Garanimals in any recent decade. Murphy hooks up with his Dr. Dolittle 2 director Steve Carr and first-time screenwriter Geoff Rodkey to produce, well, very little. It’s a concept more than a movie, and its jokes and sight gags seem mostly improvised or dashed off. The filmmakers barely delve into the comic setup’s rich potential for sexual role-play reversal and formulaic upheaval – à la Mr. Mom or countless sitcom episodes on TV. Murphy plays Charlie Hinton, a man unbelievably fired from his job in advertising for his inability to sell a patently unsellable product. His sidekick in daycare, as in advertising, is the dependably amusing Jeff Garlin (Larry David’s sidekick in Curb Your Enthusiasm). The men play these two as fully comfortable in their masculinity, not flustered by their occupational shift to child caretakers. The film’s strife comes in the form of Miss Harridan (Huston), the martinet headmistress of a tony private preschool who objects to the competition presented by the Daddy Day Care start-up. (Huston plays the role with just enough gusto to ensure her continued sideline career of playing witches, evil stepmothers, and harridans in many future children’s films to come.) But even Miss Harridan is a comic villain, who gets her comic comeuppance at the end – that is, the end that comes before the outtake clips that play during the closing credits at the real end of the movie. Steve Zahn, who was so hilarious acting with little tykes in Happy, Texas, is called on for similar service here, although his material isn’t quite as funny in this picture. Poor Regina King, as Charlie’s working wife, has little to do throughout except leave the house. And instead of having his whole career reassignment be treated as a learning experience or growth opportunity, it is handled as the ultimate retort to the man who fired him (comedy utility player Nealon). Across-the-board, the kids are extremely adorable to watch (not an easy thing to pull off) and will appeal to the other kids in the audience who might identify with them and see the story from the kids’ point of view. But looking at this film from any other perspective will give you brain rot.