Even before being reworked in 2011 after an initially planned 2009 release, it’s unlikely that A Thousand Words would have turned many heads for reasons good or bad. That notwithstanding, it’d be interesting to compare the original product with the two-faced creation now making a pit stop at the multiplexes on its way to virtual irrelevance. The film’s central premise—motor-mouth businessman Jack McCall (Eddie Murphy) finds himself cursed with a mysterious tree that loses its leaves when he speaks, thus signaling his imminent demise lest he shut his trap and find peace in silence—suggests a second-generation Frank Capra fantasy at its best and a contrived concept comedy from the glory days of VHS at its worst, alternately trifling in its broad pandering and gutless in its paint-by-numbers effort to recreate the manic energy of, say, Liar Liar. Seinfeld scribe Steven Koren’s script was wanting from day one, yet watching the film feels akin to sitting in on a committee meeting in which pratfalls and pot jokes are shoehorned into the proceedings for fear of the audience losing interest, and whatever energy the film manages to accrue is frequently lost on these obnoxious, unnecessary insertions.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell quite where the incisions start and stop throughout this already uneven creation, but through the frequently trifling nonsense, there are occasional spurts of hilarity, introspection, and a climactic act of sacrifice that’s both audacious and genuinely moving. What has been tweaked in postproduction can only be surmised, but deep within A Thousand Words lies the flickering shadow of a better movie—one without the jarring slapstick and Starbucks product placements getting in the way of the sublime Ruby Dee, the comedic genius-in-training Clark Duke, and what eventually builds into an existential look at morality (and mortality). Someone cared enough about this ridiculous plot to carry it through, and against all odds, it still resonates. A Thousand Words may not have ever been a good film, but cruel circumstance and greed are at least partly responsible for the ultimate lack of quality control.