Whoa, daddy

Daddy Day Care

Eddie Murphy, dressed as a giant broccoli, scares off a new generation of tykes from appreciating one of nature’s finer vegetables.

Eddie Murphy, dressed as a giant broccoli, scares off a new generation of tykes from appreciating one of nature’s finer vegetables.

Rated 2.0

People going in to see Daddy Day Care, Eddie Murphy’s new movie, probably will know exactly what to expect. But, just in case they need to be told, there’s a moment early on—in fact, during the credits—that clears things up. As the soundtrack blares “Walkin’ on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves, we see an adorable little tyke (Khamani Griffin) get out of bed, put his adorable little feet into a pair adorable little slippers and then shuffle down the hall rubbing his adorable little eyes. As he toddles into the bathroom and out of sight, the music stops mid-note, and we hear the sound of him taking an adorable little leak. We hear the flush, and Katrina and the Waves pick up exactly where they left off. The sound of a child urinating: This was the moment director Steve Carr just couldn’t bear for us to miss.

The boy, we soon learn, is Ben, the son of Charlie Hinton (Murphy) and his wife, Kim (Regina King). Kim put her career on hold when she had Ben right out of law school, and now she and Charlie are shopping for a good preschool so she can go to work. The only possible choice is the Chapman Academy, a trendy, expensive, but strait-laced and joyless place run like a military school by a humorless, iron-willed harridan named, well, Miss Harridan (Anjelica Huston).

Soon, Charlie gets downsized out of his job—he works in the “health” section of a major food company, trying to develop a market for a cereal called Veggie-Os by dressing men up as carrots and broccoli to build enthusiasm in a kiddie focus group—and the Chapman Academy is no longer affordable. So, Charlie and Kim go shopping again, but nothing will do. At length, Charlie and Phil (Jeff Garlin), a former co-worker in the same boat, establish their own business: Daddy Day Care. Their general approach to day care can be summed up in five words: “How hard can it be?” These dopes somehow make such a success of their business that they threaten the complacency, and arouse the vengeful ire, of the spiteful Miss Harridan.

The script for Daddy Day Care is credited to Geoff Rodkey, whose only other credits (according to the Internet Movie Database) are for two TV series: one year on Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect, where writing duties must have been light, and another on the failed Al Franken sitcom LateLine. How someone with so little experience landed a job writing the latest Eddie Murphy movie is an interesting question for another article, but you get what you pay for: A failed third-rate sitcom is exactly what Daddy Day Care looks and sounds like.

Rodkey doesn’t seem to have read the whole script after he wrote it; probably no one else did, either. How else do you explain the plot threads that don’t match up? In one scene, we are told that the kids in Daddy Day Care (Charlie’s son, Ben, in particular) can’t read or write. Scant days later, 3-year-old Ben draws a picture of himself and Charlie, with “Daddy” and “Ben” neatly printed on it. The only reason for this is to give the movie an “Awwwww” moment.

In another case of writer’s amnesia, Charlie and Phil feed their kiddie clients a lunch consisting mainly of cookies, marshmallows, Twinkies and candy—this, mind you, despite the fact that the men were just laid off from a food company where they worked on healthful products aimed at children. If they learned no more than that about child nutrition from their last job, they probably deserved to be fired. It makes no dramatic or psychological sense, but it creates an opportunity for some cheap sugar-rush jokes. And that’s good enough for Carr and Rodkey. That kind of slovenly, formulaic stuff goes on all throughout the movie. Carr has one trick: He cuts away to the kids doing something either cute or naughty—preferably both—whenever a gag fizzles. The trick never works because every single gag fizzles, even the ones in the obligatory outtakes under the end credits. And, to tell the truth, these kids aren’t really all that cute to begin with.