Jack McCall (Eddie Murphy) is a literary agent who uses his "gift of gab" to get various book deals, and he is not afraid to stretch the truth to get them. While he is trying to get a book deal from a New Age self-help guru named Dr. Sinja (Cliff Curtis), the guru sees through his deceit and agrees to the deal, only to later deliver a five-page book. That night, a Bodhi Tree magically appears in his backyard. Dr. Sinja goes to Jack's house and they both discover that for every word that Jack says, a leaf will fall off of the tree. When the tree runs out of leaves, the tree will perish, as will Jack. In time, he finds that even written words count towards his limit; plus anything that happens to the tree will also affect Jack. When Jack tries to cut it down with an axe, an axe wound appears on him. When squirrels climb the tree, it tickles him. When a gardener tries to poison it with DDT, Jack gets high on the fumes and when the gardener tries to water the tree, Jack starts to sweat/perspire profusely.
With Jack forced to pick and choose his words, communicating with others becomes difficult and full of misunderstandings. These misunderstandings cost him two book deals, his job, and his wife Caroline (Kerry Washington). She walks out on him when she thinks his sudden silence is due to him not loving her anymore. When he tries to explain the tree to her, she doesn't believe him. Only Jack's assistant Aaron (Clark Duke) realizes he is telling the truth, and goes to Jack's house to keep track of how many leaves remain. Jack tries to break the curse by being a better person by giving food to the homeless, and donating some of his money to charity, but that plan fails. Jack drinks a lot of alcohol in the night, causing him to sing a lot, thus making the tree lose lots of leaves. Only when Aaron confronts him and tackles him to the ground does Jack stop speaking.
With his life falling apart and the tree running out of leaves, Jack confronts Dr. Sinja and asks how to end the curse. The guru tells him to make peace in all of his relationships. With just one branch of leaves left, Jack tries to reconcile with his wife, but she remains hesitant. He visits his mother Annie (Ruby Dee), who lives in an assisted-living center and has dementia. Annie tells Jack, who she thinks is Jack's late father Raymond, that she wishes Jack would stop being angry at his father for walking out on them when he was a kid. Jack, realizing that this is the relationship that needs the most mending, goes to visit his father's grave. Jack expends the last three leaves of the tree with the words, "I forgive you." With no leaves remaining, Jack suffers a heart attack in a storm and appears to die. Aaron then calls Jack on his cell phone. Jack, who is still alive, answers his phone. Aaron tells him that the tree's leaves have magically reappeared and Jack can now talk freely again.
Jack and Caroline get back together, with Jack buying the family-friendly house Caroline asked for earlier, and the tree is in their front yard. He does not get his job back (Aaron was promoted to Jack's old position), but he writes a book about his experience, called A Thousand Words, and gets Aaron to make the deal. Unfortunately for Aaron, his promotion causes him to be like Jack was, thus he gets his own smaller office Bodhi tree.Eddie Murphy as Jack McCall
Kerry Washington as Caroline McCall
Clark Duke as Aaron Wiseberger
Cliff Curtis as Dr. Sinja
Allison Janney as Samantha Davis
Ruby Dee as Annie McCall (Jack's Mother)
Jack McBrayer as Starbucks Coffee Employee
Steve Little as Co-Worker
John Witherspoon as Blind Old Man
Kayla Blake as Emily
Lennie Loftin as Robert Gilmore
Alain Chabat as Christian Léger de la Touffe
Ted Kennedy as Homeless Man
Emanuel Ragsdale as Tyler McCall
A Thousand Words was filmed in 2008 in Los Angeles, California and was supposed to be released in 2009, but was repeatedly delayed after being caught up in the separation of DreamWorks Pictures from Paramount Pictures and Viacom. During an interview for Fred: The Movie, director Brian Robbins stated that the film would be released in 2011. Reshoots were done on the film early in 2011.
The film was then scheduled for a January 2012 release, but after Murphy was announced as the host of the 2012 Oscar ceremony (he later stepped down), the film was given a date of March 23, 2012; this was later pushed to April 20, 2012 before being pushed up to its eventual release date of March 9, 2012.
The film earned $18,450,127 in North America, along with $3,594,150 in other countries, for a worldwide total of $22,044,277, against an estimated production budget of $40 million.
A Thousand Words was universally panned by critics. The film has a rating of 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 54 reviews, with an average rating of 3.2/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Dated jokes (A Thousand Words was shot in 2008) and removing Eddie Murphy's voice—his greatest comedic asset—dooms this painful mess from the start." The site also gave the film their "Moldy Tomato" award for the worst-reviewed film of 2012, and is one of the few films with a 0% on the site. On Metacritic, the film has a score of 26 out of 100, based on 18 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews."
The Guardian commented that "Everyone, it seems, is united by A Thousand Words' awfulness."
Plans for a British release date of June 8, 2012 were cancelled due to unidentified difficulties, and the film was instead released direct-to-DVD in the UK on July 16, 2012.
A Thousand Words was nominated for three Golden Raspberry Awards, but received none of them.Worst Picture (lost to The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2)
Worst Actor (Eddie Murphy) (lost to Adam Sandler for That's My Boy)
Worst Screenplay (Steve Koren) (lost to David Caspe for That's My Boy)