Fri, Aug 22, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Eddie Murphy proves to be more childish than the kids

If you already know how to go the bathroom by yourself, the intellectual level of `Daddy Day Care' may prove dauntingly low

By Elvis Mitchell  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Eddie Murphy plays to a crowd of toddlers in Daddy Day Care.

PHOTO: BVI

The most astonishing thing about Daddy Day Care, a comedy that would have to work harder even to justify the appellation uninspired, is that a kick in the groin is now a joke for toddlers. They are both the target audience and the co-stars of this Eddie Murphy vehicle -- more of a Big Wheel, really.

In the movie, intended for those who take their apple juice in sipping cups, Murphy plays an out-of-work marketing executive with no real interest in children except for his son. He decides to open a day care center with Phil (Jeff Garlin), his pal and equally fired colleague, who's a little afraid of his own son. You can't get more high-concept, or less plotted, than this, and Daddy Day Care is proof. It's a series of trailers for Nickelodeon, which mostly feature Garlin being attacked by something angry, either kids or bees, and probably in the sequel, kids of bees.

The extremely flimsy connective tissue is Murphy, who barely bothers to do takes; he'll raise an eyebrow here and there, but he mostly uses a voice so smooth and warm you could pour it over pancakes. And in this context the very young audience is so primed to react to him as Eddie Murphy that it's surprising that the children in the cast don't call him Eddie. He can get away with this because he knows the movie will do most of the work for him; he's Beverly Hills Pop.

His wife (Regina King) smiles and shakes her head when he says he'll use their home as a day care headquarters. Maybe her secret is that she wants to redecorate, since any mom knows that a pack of minimally supervised 4-year-olds will turn her furnishings into kindling.

There is so much more to be done with this idea that the film could stand to be remade. Daddy Day Care is nearly a remake of Mr. Mom, although at least here the star isn't frightened of his kids. Instead it's another cliche: before losing his job, Charlie (Murphy) is so strung out on its demands that he doesn't make time for his shy, quiet little boy, Ben, who clearly adores him.

Film Notes:

Daddy Day Care

Directed by: Steve Carr

Starring: Eddie Murphy (Charlie Hinton), Jeff Garlin (Phil), Steve Zahn (Marvin), Regina King (Kim Hinton), Khamani Griffin (Ben Hinton), Kevin Nealon (Bruce), Jonathan Katz (Dan Kubitz), Siobhan Fallon Hogan (Peggy), Anjelica Huston (Miss Harridan), Lacey Chabert (Jenny) and Laura Kightlinger (Sheila)

Running time: 93 minutes

Taiwan Release: Today


What's also revelatory about Murphy is how relaxed he is with children; Charlie's relationship with his son has a natural ease. (Five years ago, just before the release of Dr. Doolittle, who'd have thought Murphy would become someone he had once made fun of -- Bill Cosby.)

And little Ben (Khamani Griffin) is a cutie pie with suffering dimples, enormous dark eyes and lashes so long and minklike that Jennifer Lopez would skin him alive for them. The director, Steve Carr, uses Griffin as nap time for the movie, quieting the hysteria the other wild kids bring whenever they show up.

Anjelica Huston is the competition, the proprietor of the Chapman Academy, a rigid, snooty child care institution and boarding school. Her name is Miss Harridan, since Miss Broom Hilda was apparently unavailable for legal reasons, and Phil refers to her place as "the Marine Corps of day care." Garlin's wry, slow delivery puts a bit of extra English in the picture's few good lines, as does his demeanor. He's too big a guy to work himself into frenzied exasperation; frustration comes to him on his own schedule.

And when Steve Zahn shows up as an old work buddy who pops in to help out, Daddy Day Care is almost on the verge of generating chemistry among the very able comic talents of these three men. The air crackles around them, though the expectation dissipates very quickly.

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