Daddy Day Care

Rating:

Eddie Murphy’s Comedy Dud

Main Cast: Eddie Murphy, Jeff Garlin, Steve Zahn

Director: Steve Carr

Daddy Day Care is all about – you guessed it – a day care run by Daddies! Eddie Murphy stars as Charlie the suddenly out of work Daddy. See, Daddy never spent much quality time with Son, as can be seen in the longing looks of Son, and the exasperated sighs of Wife (Regina King). So, now, just as Son is settling into a preschool-for-the-perpetually-annoying, Daddy’s jobless status is forcing Son to leave this expensive program. Daddy doesn’t know anything at all about being with Son, so he figures a good idea would be to start, with former co-worker Phil (Jeff Garlin), a day care! That’s right – since he’s a complete fool with his own kid, he figures he can take care of a whole bunch of others with the same hysterically funny lack of ability! Oh, hilarity is bound to ensue! Ha. Ha. Ha.

He runs into a few snags (gasp!) along the way, including periodic inspections from child welfare, an unscrupulous headmistress from the expensive preschool, and of course lots of really, really funny hijinks from those darn precocious bundles of joy in his care! What will Dad do? Will he succeed? Will he fail? Will Son continue to gaze at Dad longingly? Will anyone laugh? That one I’ll answer. No.

I don’t even know where to start with this one. Maybe I’ll just start at the beginning. The premise. It’s old, tired and no longer interesting. The career driven parent forced through circumstance to become more involved only to discover that his family is more important than that precious career. Yawn. Sometimes this premise has been played seriously and well (Kramer vs. Kramer), other times comically and well (Baby Boom). This time it’s done flatly and poorly. There isn’t a single development that isn’t telegraphed many scenes in advance, not a single joke you don’t anticipate, and the outcome is never in question. Frankly, it’s boring.

Eddie Murphy used to be funny. When I first heard Delirious many years ago I laughed until my sides ached. Where’s my Eddie Murphy? He sure isn’t anywhere to be found in Daddy Day Care. This Eddie Murphy is reduced to trying to get a laugh out of getting kicked in the shin by a four year old. That’s just sad. His trademark laugh is still there, but the rest of the performance has no sparkle, no enthusiasm. He says his lines, he makes his faces, and he has his thoughtful Dad/Son moments (cringe-worthy at best). But he isn’t funny. He’s on autopilot and it shows.

Most of the other performances are equally lackluster. Jeff Garlin is a little more animated as Phil, but his character is pretty much limited to the “fat guy lying on the sofa”. The few scenes in which he actually does something are all right, but nothing special. Of course the movie must have a villain, in this case tragically supplied by Anjelica Huston as Mrs. Harridan, headmistress of the competing preschool. Get it? She’s a mean, bitter, nasty lady and her name is Mrs. Harridan! Oh, it’s so clever I almost smiled. Well, not really. Again, there isn’t a single aspect of the character that isn’t easily anticipated, nor is there one that is in any way entertaining. She isn’t really scary, she isn’t funny, and her competition with the Murphy character is beyond unbelievable. In one scene she and her assistant (the always disturbingly unwelcome Lacey Chabert) sabotage a fundraiser at the Daddy Day Care. Put in trench coats and dark glasses to do their nefarious work, the entire scene is just pathetic and sad. Huston is not in the least helped by the fact that her hair, makeup and wardrobe make her look like a man in drag. The kids are, well, movie kids. Precocious, annoying, prone to dialogue far beyond their years, for the most part interchangeable. Not good.

There is one bright light shining within this morass of mediocrity, and that light goes by the name of Steve Zahn. Always a welcome presence, Zahn plays Marvin, a geek from the old workplace of Charlie. He makes his way into Daddy Day Care and shows the idiot Daddies how to get along with the kids. He wears Star Trek uniforms, speaks Klingon and is more or less the only thing that saves this movie from being a complete disaster. His part is not large, but in each of his scenes he manages to actually create a character in Marvin, something none of the other performers can claim. His first scene, in which he argues his personal unwillingness to portray a stalk of broccoli, is funnier than any scene Murphy has in the entire film. Even in the usual self-congratulatory DVD extras where the actors all gloat about how richly rewarding this experience has been for them, Zahn is smart, self-deprecating and funny. How he got roped into this film is beyond me, but for the sake of this tired viewer, I’m glad he did. He and he alone is responsible for Daddy Day Care receiving two stars instead of one.

Overall, writer Geoff Rodkey and director Steve Carr dish up a boring, unfunny, unoriginal film in Daddy Day Care. Murphy is dull and listless, I’m actively embarrassed for Huston, and no one else even merits that much attention (with the exception of the aforementioned Zahn).  If you must see Daddy Day Care, mute the sound when Zahn isn’t on screen, and gather a group of little boys to laugh at the poop scene. It’s really the best you can hope for.

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