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Mom, Apple Pie, and Cuteness

May 13th, 2003 (12:00 am)

© 2003 D. Gordon

It being Mother's Day, I took the 'rental unit to lunch and a movie. I think the last movie we saw together was over ten years ago, and I can probably count the total number of joint films on the fingers of one hand (well, definitely two hands). But it was her day, and so she made the choice:

"Daddy Day Care."

I wasn't sure I'd heard her right. "That's the one with Eddie Murphy as the father who loses his job and opens a day care service, you know."

Yep, she knew. I was afraid of that.

Me - terminally jaded, so cool that I watch more silents than talkies - sentenced to a... Hollywood Star Vehicle?

I love my mother, and it was Mother's Day, so I bit my tongue, ignored all the little kids - we were probably the only group in the theater without kids - and watched. And you know? It wasn't all that bad.

Okay, it's completely predictable: our heroes (Eddie Murphy and Jeff Garlin, later joined by Steve Zahn) run into a problem and find a solution, but the solution creates some problems, so our heroes do the practical thing, then backtrack and do the right thing, and everybody lives happily ever after. The kids are Cute (with a capital K). There are the requisite digs at perceived social negatives (in this case, feminism - and there is just a touch of misogyny).

But the movie isn't quite the star vehicle it might've been. Garlin’s role isn’t consistent – sometimes he just fills in space – but more often than not he and Zahn contribute something towards saving the day. Murphy’s character’s wife is the cipher you might expect, but his four-year-old son is present for just about the whole movie, and the plot even touches on him briefly every so often. Murphy also backs away from the manic comedy – no Klumps around this dinner table. Maybe that's the striking thing about this go-round – Murphy is falling into the kiddie movie niche, and he had the common sense to really share the spotlight with the pint-sized cast members.

Fortunately, in this case the kids aren't a bunch of sugar babies. The cuteness quotient is pretty high (at one point, there are fourteen - count 'em, fourteen! - Cute Little Kids running around), and they're playing up saying/doing the darndest things (you knew that "you’re killing me" would end up in the outtakes), but they’re balanced enough by the adults (not to mention the groin shots and poop jokes) to make for palatable pablum.

Angelica Huston makes an appearance as the evil Cruella of the movie, Mrs. Harridan. She's done better work (and where has she been? where have I been? I've missed her), and her character is so unremittingly mean, but she looked like she was having fun and I didn't want to begrudge her the good time.

So am I going to run out and see the next Eddie Murphy film? Probably not. Will Eddie Murphy become the king of the kiddie flicks? That's a more interesting question. There's always an audience for this niche, and he definitely can pull it off adequately. But it would be a shame if his talents – and he does have some definite talents – were permanently reduced to being the foil for Cute Little Kids.

And – I still love my mother (though she's not getting any grandkids), and we will have more lunches in the future. Don't know about the movies. She’d never understand Guy Maddin.

One other thing: I really hate the outtakes at the end of Eddie Murphy movies. He really needs to stop that.