'A Thousand Words': Can Eddie Murphy regain his voice?
When DreamWorks, the studio run by Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider, decided to begin shooting a movie with Eddie Murphy in 2008, it seemed like a good idea. Murphy was coming off a hit in “Norbit” and an Oscar nomination for “Dreamgirls.” He had a general cultural cachet thanks to “Shrek,” which was still going strong. “A Thousand Words,” as the DreamWorks movie was called, couldn’t miss.
Murphy soon came out with “Meet Dave” (a bomb) and “Imagine That” (a slightly smaller bomb, but still enough to cloud up the boys room). Then he was hosting the Oscars -- until he wasn’t. “Tower Heist” came and went. And in March 2012, Murphy is about as ice-cold as a onetime A-lister can get.
After numerous release changes and years on the shelf, Paramount is bringing out the film this weekend. (The studio landed “Words” after parting ways with former corporate spouse DreamWorks.)
As my colleague Ben Fritz and I explore in a story about the film in tomorrow’s Times, the pre-release tracking is poor -- so poor, in fact, that pundits say the movie could open to under $10 million, which may be barely enough to top the wan $5 million of the first weekend of “Meet Dave.” Not helping: The star didn’t sit for any talk-show interviews.
So how is Paramount getting people to see the movie?
A high-concept comedy that evokes early Jim Carrey movies, “Thousand Words” focuses on a fast-talking book agent who learns he’ll die if he keeps speaking. So Murphy resorts to exaggerated gestures, leading Paramount to hope that the physical comedy will lure Murphy fans who haven’t seen him try that kind of thing in a while.
The studio is also targeting female and African American audiences, with marketing spots on “The Bachelor,” “Khloe and Lamar” and “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.”
A three-year wait between the end of production and a film’s release is a long time -- Paramount faced a similar lag with the Renee Zellweger thriller “Case 39,” and Relativity Media looked into the 36-month abyss with Topher Grace’s “Take Me Home Tonight.” Both those movies saw enough time go by for their stars to dim, too.
But both companies can take comfort knowing that they’ll never match the record of “Margaret,” which will likely stand, DiMaggio-like, for a long time: The Anna Paquin drama spent six years in the pantry before getting a release.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Cliff Curtis and Eddie Murphy in "A Thousand Words." Credit: Paramount