Mark Reviews Movies


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Steve Carr

Cast: Eddie Murphy, Jeff Garlin, Steve Zahn, Anjelica Huston, Khamani Griffin, Regina King

MPAA Rating: PG (for language)

Running Time: 1:33

Release Date: 5/9/03

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Review by Mark Dujsik

Daddy Day Care relies on one concept: little kids are cute. And they say and do the darnedest things. Especially when they run around and wreak havoc and make messes all over the walls of the bathroom and say big words and ask where babies come from and other such precious little things. The thing is that cute kids do not a complete movie make, and the filmmakers here seem painfully aware of the fact from beginning to end. When the kids aren't around, the movie wavers—no, has to be stronger—collapses on contrived and incompetent plot devices and gag-worthy moments of saccharine sentimentality. When at a loss for any of these, screenwriter Geoff Rodkey throws in the obligatory toilet humor, the amount of which leads me to believe he had countless nights of writer's block. The movie is clearly aimed at kids, but is this really the kind of stuff we should be filling their brains with? They're smarter and more imaginative than this, even if the movie believes otherwise.

Charlie Hinton (Eddie Murphy) works in advertising in the health food department where a vegetable-flavored cereal is causing problems with the testing group. The idea and the entire division are scrapped after too many failures, leaving Charlie and his partner Phil (a monotonous Jeff Garlin, who spends the movie constantly getting injured) without jobs. With only Charlie's wife Kim (Regina King) working, the Hinton family financial situation comes to the point where they can no longer afford to keep son Ben (Khamani Griffin) at the illustrious and insanely expensive Chapman Academy, a day care facility that teaches foreign languages, martial arts, and SAT analogies. Ben needs a place for care once Charlie finds a job, but the alternatives aren't worth considering. This gives Charlie an idea: Open up a day care center in his house. It will give him more time to spend with Ben, offer a service for other parents in similar circumstances, and, of course, provide jobs for himself and Phil. Once they get past the apprehensions of parents, Daddy Day Care is up and running.

So, yes, the kids do a couple of cutely amusing things that give Charlie and Phil a hard time, but otherwise there's nothing of worthwhile comic substance to fill in the voids. In fact, after the first tumultuous day of Daddy Day Care, the kids fall by the wayside, probably because well-behaved kids aren't funny in Rodkey's eyes. The first day has a level of energy that the movie hasn't matched before and won't match again, although it isn't nearly energetic enough to elevate the movie from its already established slump. The costume design and art direction create a world of bright primary colors, as though to compensate for the lack of fun, and whatever comic ability the performers have is sorely wasted to the point that you don't recognize some of the more notable ones anymore. Eddie Murphy continues his trend of finding material that doesn't suit him at all and puts in one of his weakest efforts to date. It's amazing that a man so funny can be so completely overpowered by a lousy script. Steve Zahn is the only consistently amusing cast member. He plays a nerd who knows how to communicate with children after reading Dr. Spock's book—only because he thought it had something to do with "Star Trek."

Meanwhile, the headmistress of Chapman Academy begins to notice more and more students disappearing from her classrooms every day. The thankless job of playing the useless villain goes to Anjelica Huston, who deserves better—much better. Why this movie needs a villain, I don't know. She's here, though, and she sticks an inspection or two on them and ruins a completely good fundraiser. Why the inspector couldn't come of his own accord and the fundraiser couldn't raise enough money on its own, I don't know. But it all leads to a series of events that make Charlie consider stopping the program but ultimately realizing how he's helped the kids and eventually coming to learn a valuable lesson. The lesson: Family is important. The kids learn how to read and how to become more sociable and to not wear action hero costumes all the time. Well, if family is so important, dear movie, why aren't the kids' parents teaching them this stuff? No social agenda here on my part; just curious as to how this contradiction makes any sort of sense.

I'm guessing no one was paying too much attention during filming anyway, and I'll tell you why. Daddy Day Care features a series of outtakes during the credits, which are, as is typical of unfunny comedies, funnier than the movie itself. Now in one of them, Zahn's cell phone rings. It's a trend I'm a little disturbed by, as I've seen it happen a few times in outtakes. Anyway, my point being, if your actors are so lax about making sure their phones are off or on silent during the filming of a scene, it stands to reason they don't care enough about the project to take it into consideration.

Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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