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Daddy Day Care (PG)
Columbia Pictures
Official Site
Director: Steve Carr
Producers: John Davis, Matt Berenson, Wyck Godfrey
Written by: Geoff Rodkey
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Jeff Garlin, Steve Zahn, Regina King, Anjelica Huston, Khamani Griffin

Rating: out of 5

94 minutes of hell. For fuck’s sake, this sort of thing must stop. How is it that talentless fuckers are getting paid to write movie scripts and we’re not? I don’t quite know how to read this. Does it mean that this script actually looked good compared to the rest of the execrable scribblings that passed under the producers’ eyes? Or does it mean the producers wouldn’t know a decent script if it bit them in the ass, and we’ve been deprived of countless worthwhile, entertaining works?

Charlie (Murphy) stays up late nights, working on marketing campaigns for healthful (Veggie-Os, anyone?) breakfast cereals for kids. He leaves family concerns to his wife, Kim (King), who’s about to re-enter the job market after four years of being a stay-at-home mom. They plan to enroll their son Ben (Griffin) in Chapman Academy, a crêche for high-achieving tots run by one Miss Harridan (Huston), but fate takes a hand. The project Charlie and his colleague Phil (Garlin) were working on is axed in favor of a choco-nugget cereal. Out of work and out of money, the guys band together and decide to open a day care center.

For fellows whose day to day involved focus groups and the youth market, these guys sure don’t know much about kids. Their initial attempts at childcare result in the kind of pratfalls and slapstick that are the staples of caricatured inept fatherhood. The good news is, the dads never resorted to electronic babysitters—TV and videos—to manage the kids. The bad news is, well, the bad news is the rest of the movie. What guys in this day and age could be such hopeless, hapless clowns? I’m insulted on behalf of dads throughout the entire animal kingdom.

Eventually the guys hit their groove. And once they bring in Marvin (Zahn), a former mail clerk and über-Trekkie who has a way with kids, things start going so smoothly that Charlie and Phil begin to value and enjoy their work. And, of course, it is work, even though there are a couple of scenes where folks refer to childcare as not being a “real job.” Kim even says this, and after she’s been at home with Ben for several years. But I digress.

Daddy Day Care is a connect-the-dots exercise that doesn’t skip a single family comedy/heartwarmer cliché. Potty humor? Check. Somewhat dim dad? Oh yeah. Montage of rampaging kids? Check. Over-the-top villain? Present and accounted for. Gratuitous groin kicking? Yep, though it sure beats me why groin kicking has assumed such a traditional place in children’s entertainment.

This entertainment comes to us courtesy of Geoff Rodkey, who makes his feature screenwriting debut here, and Steve Carr, who directed Murphy’s Dr. Doolittle movie and Next Friday. I have no doubt that a PG movie, opening near the end of the school year, will be able to make a little money, but one would hope for a bit more than this intellectually insulting (there’s that word again—no help for it, it’s the watchword of this movie) story.

The story is full of let-downs. For example: When the daddies open their day care center, Miss Harridan calls Child Protective Services on them. Now we’re supposed to sympathize with the daddies and not this nasty bitch, but guess what? The filmmakers have just spent several minutes showing us how clueless these guys are. I’d call DPCS too! Furthermore, when the guys confront Miss Harridan about it, she responds with (if you ask me, valid) concerns for the kids’ welfare and educations. But by the time the movie ends, Miss Harridan has become a nyah-hah-hah villainness of melodrama, resorting to fiendish dirty tricks (one of the few truly funny moments is the cameo of Cheap Trick while said dirty tricks are going on) and solely motivated by her desire to crush an economic competitor. And Huston doesn’t even get to be as deliciously evil at it as she was as the head witch in The Witches.

The guys get their marketing jobs back, then belatedly discover what’s really important to them. Gosh, don’t you wish we could write shit like this? That half-star is for the really amusing oldies soundtrack and the presence of Cheap Trick. (One wonders if the filmmakers have actually listened to the words to “Surrender” or just picked it because the refrain includes the words mommy and daddy.) My heart bleeds for them to have been involved in this five-car-pile-up.

Mr. Murphy has a highly successful career as a voice actor (Mulan, Shrek). He would do well to confine his efforts to that arena. The empty-calorie cereals Charlie and Phil deplore are the perfect metaphor for this movie: Don’t feed this swill to your kids.

—Roxanne Bogucka


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