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Not Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood
A review of Daddy Day Care
by Robert A. Fulkerson

Eddie Murphy has had a long career since his days on Saturday Night Live. He's a funny and talented guy, and he makes quite a bit of money for being a funny and talented guy. If I were Eddie Murphy, making $20 million a picture, I guess I wouldn't really care if I made a string of flops like "Showtime", "I Spy" and the absolutely dismal "The Adventures of Pluto Nash".

Director: Steve Carr

Stars: Eddie Murphy, Jeff Garlin, Angelica Huston, Steve Zahn, Khamani Griffin, Regina King

Rating: PG

Release: 05-09-2003

Time: 93 minutes

Buy Movie at Murphy seems to have found a successful groove recently of making movies for kids and people who like good Saturday afternoon popcorn munchers. The two Nutty Professor movies and the two Dr. Dolittle movies alone have grossed over half a billion dollars in the US. Add to that his excellent voice work in the animated films "Mulan" and "Shrek" and his cool turn as brothers Kit and Jiff in "Bowfinger" and he's had almost a billion-dollar run over the past seven years. You can forgive him some flops with success and quality like that.

"Daddy Day Care" will be one of Murphy's more successful outings of the past two years (which have seen the aforementioned flops released). Primarily because he's made a film for the same audience that made the Klumps and Dolittle household names. He's not shooting for classic, groundbreaking material. Instead, he's an entertainer, pure and simple. He knows this, and he makes us laugh and we appreciate him for knowing that.

In "Daddy Day Care", Murphy plays Charlie Hinton, an ad executive in the natural foods department at a cereal company. He and his friend Phil (Jeff Garlin) have been tasked with trying to market Veggie-O's, a cereal chock full of vegetable goodness. As expected, kids don't want to eat vegetables for breakfast, and after an unsuccessful focus group test of the cereal, Charlie and Phil and the rest of his natural foods department colleagues are let go from the company.

Charlie and his wife Kim (Regina King) are trying to get their son Ben (Khamani Griffin) placed into a prestigous preschool run by the strict and calculating Mrs. Harridan (Anjelica Huston). Children at Mrs. Harridan's preschool learn five languages ("Portugese starts in the fall!") and take pre-SAT prep classes. Mrs. Harridan appears to have the best interests of the children at heart while also figuring how to make quite a bit of money from the rich parents who can afford to pay her.

After Charlie is fired, Kim decides it's time to go back to work as a lawyer. This leaves Charlie at home with Ben, and we see that despite working long hours running focus groups with children, he's not sure how to actually interact with his own son.

Charlie and Phil, also alone at home with his own son, decide to start a day care center based out of the Hinton's house to offer a low-cost alternate to Mrs. Harridan's school and to help pay their own bills.

What follows is fairly predictable with lots of children running around the house on the first day of day care and destroying things in the house, drinking bubble solution and belching bubbles and having a bathroom accident with a boy who states as he comes out of the bathroom, "I missed."

Of course, the day care goes through some turmoil as a child protection services inspector comes and visits the day care, laundry-listing a dozen or more violations that need to be fixed by the next day. Charlie and Phil fix the problems, survive another visit from the inspector and hire a third "daddy" (Steve Zahn) to help with the 14 children in their care. The day care is shut down temporarily while Charlie and Phil are both rehired at their old jobs to market and sell a new cereal, Cotton Candy Puffs. Charlie has an epiphany that he wants to spend his time with kids instead of in meetings selling crap that makes kids hyper. Cut to passionate speech at Mrs. Harridan's school about how sometimes kids just want to be kids and not prep for the SAT. Cut to new, expanded Daddy Day Care center with lots of happy, smiling parents and children and fade to black.

You can see all of these plot events coming from a mile away, and yet still you're entertained. At least I was. Murphy plays more of the straight man role here, allowing Garlin and Zahn and the kids to deliver most of the outrageous lines and do the physical comedy.

While I basically enjoyed the movie, the entire time I was watching it I could see a better plotline that should have been developed further, which was the subplot involving his son. Khamani Griffin does a really nice job of looking like all he wants is for his daddy to take a real interest in him. Two or three times during the movie, Murphy and Griffin have some very nice scenes that are cut short so that Murphy can transition the film to an antic-filled moment with wild and crazy kids. Ben's the reason Charlie took up the whole day care gig in the first place, and he's mainly used as a plot device to punctuate larger comedic arcs in the movie. I wasn't looking for a tear-jerker involving Ben and Charlie, but an opportunity was lost by not pursuing that relationship in more depth.

Lots of people have been jumping on the "Eddie Murphy's career is over" bandwagon because of his recent string of adult-targetted box-office flops. While I'd love to see a movie with Murphy where we see some of the Old Eddie ("Trading Places", "Coming to America", "Beverly Hills Cop", "The Golden Child"), I'm just as happy to see him hamming it up for the kids and making them (and most of the adults with them) smile.