If A Thousand Words
’ formula seems familiar, that’s because writer Steve Koren has tripped down this quasi-metaphysical path before in Bruce Almighty
. In brief: Clueless guy meets magical/mystical/religious force. Antics ensue, followed by a dark night of the soul and finally salvation. Here, the clueless guy is Eddie Murphy’s Jack McCall, a fast-talking Hollywood literary agent trying to sign a spiritual guru named Dr. Sinja (Curtis). Jack lies through his teeth to land the client, which is generally not something you should do to a holy man, especially when there’s a vengeful Bodhi tree nearby with which to make an accidental blood pact. Or something. Jack’s fate becomes linked with the tree’s. For every word he says, the tree loses a leaf; every leaf the tree loses, Jack comes closer to life’s end. A thousand leaves equals a thousand words, then it’s curtains for Jack. The idea of Murphy, that famously motormouthed actor, suddenly tongue-tied is not a punchy enough punch line to carry a whole film, and Koren’s insubstantial comic set-pieces, perfunctorily staged by Murphy’s Norbit
director Brian Robbins, overly rely on the audience’s fondness (mostly absent) for Murphy’s elastic-faced overemoting. But the film’s ungainly transition from yuk-yuk comedy to chest-beating drama works in Murphy’s favor. As his Jack quiets, so does the actor, and it becomes easier to hear the film’s ham-fisted but not unworthy message about the path to inner peace.