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Daddy Day Care

By Tom Siebert | Posted

Look, I tried my best to hate Daddy Day Care, Eddie Murphy's new, cheerfully bad family comedy about a downsized ad exec who launches a suburban day-care center when he can't find a new job: It's predictable, not all that funny, and a shameless rip off of Mr. Mom. But in the end, it kinda won me over.

There's a lot wrong with it. It stars that creepy castrated Eddie Murphy who pulled the invasion-of-the-body-snatchers move on the ballsy, funny Eddie Murphy about a decade ago. Fortunately, the man-who-would-be-Pluto Nash has been on autopilot for so long now, he's started to make it look effortless--as opposed to, say, the overwrought Robin Williams or Jim Carrey--and what used to seem like arrogant detachment now looks more like paycheck-role professionalism.

The first half-hour is depressingly lame, as all of screenwriter Geoff Rodkey's plot points dutifully plop into place and Murphy's totally the center of attention. But when his character convinces another laid-off dad (Jeff Garlin, from HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, playing pretty much exactly the same role) to join him in the day-care biz, the comics establish an appealing camaraderie that's more pleasant than funny, but easy to take. Then Steve Zahn shows up.

Zahn, MVP of many mediocre movies, steals Daddy Day Care as a goofy Trekkie/comic-book geek who turns out to be an idiot savant of child care because he once read Dr. Spock's books thinking they had something to do with Leonard Nimoy. Zahn is funny and his character is kind and nice, and as his role expands, Daddy Day Care starts to feel less phony and manipulative and more sweet and genuine. As the bratty kids learn manners and the messy kids get potty-trained, the cheap fart/poop/pee/puke/kick-in-the-balls jokes go away and the movie downshifts into a relaxed, goofy sincerity that's hard to dislike.

The climax and conclusion of the movie are much less fun, as Murphy and Garlin get another shot at high-powered executive life and have to be reminded What Really Matters. There's also a worthless subplot featuring poor Anjelica Huston as the Gestapo-like commander of a competing day-care center.

But at least director Steve Carr (sucky sequelmeister of Dr. Doolittle 2 and Next Friday) plows through all the things you knew were going to happen in half the time expected, and lingers through scenes highlighting the chemistry among the three male leads. It doesn't make Daddy Day Care a good movie, but it is a movie that left me feeling good.

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