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Dustin Putman

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Daddy Day Care (2003)
2 Stars

Directed by Steve Carr
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Jeff Garlin, Steve Zahn, Khamani Griffin, Anjelica Huston, Regina King, Lacey Chabert, Leila Arcieri, Elle Fanning, Hailey Noelle Johnson, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Kevin Nealon, Jonathan Katz, Laura Kightlinger
2003 – 93 minutes
Rated: Rated PG (for mild language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, May 10, 2003.

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.
© 2003 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman