A slick business-world type gets mystically linked to a Bodhi tree that loses another leaf with every word he speaks; and if the tree dies, so will he. Haven’t we seen this Jim Carrey movie a few times before? “A Thousand Words’’ nominally freshens things up by dropping Eddie Murphy into the role of guy-with-a-high-concept predicament. Puzzlingly, though, the movie neglects a few of the paint-by-numbers elements it ultimately needs for the story to click.
Murphy’s Jack McCall is an LA literary agent (books, not screenplays, go figure) who has his “Entourage’’-lite moments with his entertainingly beleaguered assistant (Clark Duke, “Hot Tub Time Machine’’), but who’s generally harmless. Yes, he’s not great about hearing out his pretty wife (Kerry Washington) on her laments that their modernist pad in the hills isn’t the kid-friendliest for their baby. No, he’s not sincere when he swoops in on Dr. Sinja (Cliff Curtis) to glom on to the rising spiritual guru’s sure-to-be bestseller - and ends up tree-cursed for all his thoughtless talk. But Jack does love his family and checks in diligently on his Alzheimer’s-stricken mother (Ruby Dee, who gets a nice moment or two, but otherwise deserves better). In short, he’s shallow, but not exactly an out-and-out jerk.
All of which just muddles things when director Brian Robbins (Murphy’s “Meet Dave’’ and “Norbit’’) and writer Steve Koren (“Bruce Almighty’’) steer us toward final-act redemption time. What’s up with, say, the sudden talk about Jack’s need to sort through old issues with his absentee dad? Oh, just quickly establishing the strife that the movie didn’t properly develop earlier.
Sharper laughs might overcome this, but there just aren’t enough of them. There’s a mildly amusing scene pondering how to place a Starbucks order with your lip zipped. (Just as amusing: Starbucks brightly approving a movie that presents its super-caffeinated product as fuel for diarrhea of the mouth.) There’s a semi-edgy moment with a despondent Jack belting out Teddy Pendergrass lyrics in a fleeting suicide bid. But just as often, it’s bran muffin or nose-picking jokes. Stifle those, already.