starring Eddie Murphy, Anjelica Huston, Jeff Garlin, Steve Zahn
screenplay by Geoff Rodkey
directed by Steve Carr
by Walter Chaw A little like a drowned earthworm, Daddy Day Care is less repulsive than pathetic, an anemic, flaccid little curiosity with nary a hint of life nor much resemblance to what it was when it was alive--or maybe now I'm talking about its star, Eddie Murphy. After the year Eddie just endured, however, with the elusive "legendary flop" hat trick of Showtime, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, and I Spy, I wouldn't be all that spry either. Eddie's first flop of the new year is, as unlikely as it seems, somehow more listless and boring than his previous three films, taking its inspiration from the Bush economy and our failed childcare system and making of it a saccharine puff-piece heavy on manufactured epiphanies and potty humour. It's Kindergarten Cop without the gratuitous violence; who knew that gratuitous violence in what advertises itself as a children's entertainment would be missed?
Charlie (Murphy) is of course an advertising executive who is, of course, laid off. His wife (Regina King)--so marginalized as to amount to a cameo--goes back to work, leaving Charlie and his best friend Phil (Jeff Garlin) to start a day-care centre out of Charlie's house. Because an absentee father getting back in touch with his attention-starved moppet isn't plot enough, enter Ms. Harridan (Anjelica Huston, her character's Dickensian name meaning a shrewish, desiccated old horse), the headmistress of a Dickensian (natch) day care centre who functions as the wholly unnecessary villain of the piece. Somewhere along the way, Steve Zahn comes on board as a Star Trek-obsessed "daddy" who, with an aggregate of about ten minutes of total screentime, is the most well-developed and interesting character in the entire disaster.
Daddy Day Care is the kind of patronizing movie that doesn't think you'll notice that most of Ben's dialogue has been dubbed (or, for that matter, that the talking parrot doesn't move its beak) and that the only potentially funny moments have already been overexposed by the previews. Lots of falling down by the fat guy is mixed with the fat guy getting stung to what must be near-death by a swarm of bees, Eddie getting kicked in the shins and warning of an impending aneurysm, and the kids saying a lot of precocious things while working through their issues (which include the sad tyke who hasn't been potty trained, the sad tyke who wants to be The Flash, and the sad tyke who is smart in a world that loves garbage like Daddy Day Care). The picture is protracted and unforgivable, its denouement essentially an extended harangue about the evils of intellectualism in an anti-intellectual country. Potentially interesting subplots are ignored, the fact that Charlie's little Ben (Khamani Griffin) can't read or write is instantly forgotten when it comes time for Ben to draw a carefully-labelled tribute to he and daddy, and Jonathan Katz's flummoxed child welfare official serves mainly to remind how much I miss "Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist". Originally published: May 9, 2003.