Review by Dustin Putman
2 stars out of 4
After the embarrassing one-two-three punch of 2002's "Showtime," "I
Spy," and "The Adventures of Pluto Nash" (along with "Battlefield
Earth," a runner-up for the worst film of the 21st century), the only
way for Eddie Murphy to go was up. By the very nature that it is more
appealing than a lobotomy, "Daddy Day Care" is a superior Murphy venture.
For those keeping track of his career trajectory for the last ten
years, you will already know that this does not mean the movie is
particularly good or worthwhile, but that it is at least of tolerable mediocrity.
Charlie Hinton (Eddie Murphy) is a marketing executive who, after
failing to raise interest from children on their new cereal product,
the unlikely-named "Veggie-O's," is fired. With his supportive lawyer
wife, Kim (Regina King), at work all day, half of their income suddenly
cut off, and preschool-aged son, Ben (Khamani Griffin), needing someone
to watch him, Charlie enlists fellow fired coworkers Phil (Jeff Garlin)
and Marvin (Steve Zahn) to help him open up their own day care center.
Without any experience in caring for more than one child at a time,
they at first believe they have gotten in way over their heads, and
then start to enjoy themselves and get the hang of it.
Such a hit are Charlie, Phil, and Marvin with the neighborhood parents
that competing day care institution Chapman Academy, headed by the
strict and witchy Miss Harridan (Anjelica Huston), finds its enrollment
quickly shrink. Along with her reluctant assistant, Jenny (Lacey Chabert),
Miss Harridan will stop at nothing to sabotage Charlie's new business.
All the while, Charlie has an epiphany about what it truly means to
be a good father as he closely bonds with Ben.
Directed by Steve Carr (2001's "Dr. Dolittle 2"), "Daddy Day Care"
has so much potty humor in the first half and so much syrupy, feel-good
emotion in the second that the proceedings threaten to drown all the
participants. For children between the ages of 5 and 10, this lazy
"Kindergarten Cop"-wannabe will utterly delight. With not a single
risque moment of adult humor or realistic child behavior outside of
farting jokes, however, the film constantly plays things so safe it
may not do a thing for the older audience members. In fact, the movie
may hold the record for number of times a person trips or falls for
comedic purposes. Either way, it's not funny.
Not counting 2001's incendiary CG-animated "Shrek," one wonders if
Eddie Murphy realizes he hasn't made a respectable motion picture
since 1999's "Bowfinger" (and even then, it was a supporting role).
After last year, when he couldn't have been involved in more ill-fated
projects if he tried, every thinking person is likely left with the
same obvious question: does he read the actual screenplays before
signing on to projects? No, make that two questions: Why hasn't he
fired his manager by now? "Daddy Day Care" is one of his more respectable
pictures of the last few years, but it is strictly of the cookie-cutter
variety--unintelligent, inoffensive, and completely wasteful of Murphy's
long-unchartered comic talents.
As the villainous Miss Harridan who, in all fairness, seems to run
a fairly educational program for youngsters, Anjelica Huston (2002's
"Blood Work") injects many of her scenes with an over-the-top deviance,
but is much too fine an actress for this one-note role. Her final
scenes, meant to elicit rollicking laughter as we witness her comeuppance,
is just plain mean-spirited and bewilderingly unfunny. As her assistant-with-a-conscience,
Jenny, gifted young performer Lacey Chabert (TV's "Party of Five"
and 2001's "Not Another Teen Movie") also deserves better. Regina
King (1998's "Enemy of the State") is given the thankless part of
Charlie's wife, who disappears at her job for nearly the whole last hour.
The few fleeting moments of real successful humor are not courtesy
of slumming screenwriter Geoff Rodkey, but due to the offbeat, always
welcome appearance of Steve Zahn (2001's "Joy Ride"). Zahn is occasionally
hilarious as superhero-loving child-at-heart Martin--"occasional"
because he has far less screen time than dull daddy co-stars Murphy
and Jeff Garlin (2002's "Full Frontal"). Some of the song choices,
including the Jackson 5's "ABC," The Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated,"
and Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "Takin' Care of Business," also keep
the pace from ever lagging.
In the end, "Daddy Day Care" does not quite wear out the viewer's
patience, and for this small but admirable feat, it manages a barely
passing grade. The problem is, there is no genuine heart or soul to
this movie beyond the artificial, pre-packaged fluff during the climax,
meant to tug at your heartstrings but only succeeding at tugging on
your bullshit radar. Director Steve Care mistakenly believes he has
done his job by merely carrying out the key plot concept, but there
is nothing substantial surrounding it to warrant 93 minutes. Even
if their characters are as plastic as everything else in "Daddy Day
Care," at least the kids are cute.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman