Daddy Day Care (2003) ** 1/2
Directed by Steve Carr. Written by Geoff Rodkey. Photography, Steven Poster. Editing, Christopher Greenbury.
"There was a little girl/who had a little curl/right in the middle of her forehead/ When she was good/she was very, very good/When she was bad/she was horrid."
Eddie Murphy is a one-of-a-kind performer who, in his best (mostly kinetic) roles is a master of fast-talk, fast-action and fast-reaction. As for "horrid," I tend to blame the message (the movie) and not the messenger (Murphy) though his choice of vehicles that showcase him has often been questionable.
"Daddy Day Care" is an innocuous, un-ambitious film. By far, most of its reviews are negative. Yet, although after several duds DDC is not a significant Murphy comeback, it is no failure. The star gives a simpatico performance that is low-key by his standards. Box office expectations are high enough to make a multiplex in my area schedule an amazing record of 18 shows per diem.
The story is simple, if unrealistic. Charlie (Murphy) and his buddy Phil (Jeff Garlin) are admen for a food conglomerate. They are assigned, against their judgment, to test wacky new cereals for kids. A test panel of youngsters watches their ridiculous presentation (don't ask), samples the products, hates both. So the company kills the project Š and fires the two men
Charlie has a lovely wife, Kim (Regina King) and a very cute 4-year old son Ben (Khamani Griffin.) Kim has lawyer credentials but has postponed law practice in order to take care of the child She now gets a job, letting her unemployed husband stay home and become a Mister Mom. Soon, he talks Phil (also a Daddy) into starting a day care in Charlie's house. It's a goofy project but eventually it will work.
That's the substance of a movie with some good moments. It does not tax your brains, it feel improvised or nearly so, is devoid of meanings or subtexts. In computer parlance it is WYSIWYG: what you see is what you get. The kids practice mayhem at a generally higher level than in real life. Humor is mostly of bodily functions.
Miss Harridan (Anjelica Huston) runs a very chic, terribly expensive, day care-plus-boarding school in which the children have classes so serious and advanced that you wonder how much they really retain.
The two men gradually get to like their new job. They feel close to the children, and vice-versa. Improbably, Miss Harridan begins losing some kids to the DDC and initiates a succession of visits to the new Center by Mr. Carrot (Davis Powledge), an Inspector of for Children Services. At his first inquiry he discovers a deviation from the requirement of three adult supervisors for the number of children. The problem is solved by the funny addition of Marvin (Steve Zahn,) a younger former co-worker and perpetual child who makes friends with a boy by dialoging with him in Klingon (from "Star Trek.")
Mr. Carrot will make more visits. He is a warm person, sympathetic to the DDC. His low profile role is, so far as I am concerned, the most original and interesting of the lot. Another good feature of the movie is its economy of sub-plots.
Having exceeded my own quota of plot-telling I will only disclose that by law the DDC must find larger quarters; and that a fund-raiser is sabotaged by Miss Harridan -- but all ends well.
There's minimal verisimilitude in the yarn; no one can take seriously the broad treatment of its fanciful material or its artificial story-sweeteners. While a tame Eddie Murphy may not be to the taste of many adults, his presence is a major plus. The film, though minor, deserves better than its severe critical opinions.