It’s hard to believe Eddie Murphy hasn’t made a movie in four years but here we are. I wish it was on better terms…
“Mr. Church” stars Murphy as the titular character, a chef who is hired to cook for a single mother (Natascha McElhone) and her daughter (Britt Robertson) in 1970s Los Angeles. Bruce Beresford directs.
It doesn’t seem like Eddie Murphy has been out of the spotlight until you take a look at his resume and realize this is just his third live-action film in the past six years. After he failed to win the Oscar for “Dreamgirls” in 2006, Murphy made two paycheck “Shrek” sequels and a pair of kid friendly flicks that flopped before returning to form in 2011’s “Tower Heist” (which I lowkey love). So for “Mr. Church” to be Murphy’s vehicle-of-choice to return to Hollywood in is upsetting, because it is nothing more than an emotionally manipulative and at times very awkward drama.
Murphy’s greatest attribute is his charismatic voice and energy, which was one of the reasons why his last film before this, “A Thousand Words,” was such a dud; it took away his greatest ally by giving him, well, limited words to speak. Here, Murphy is able to smile and give a sense of warmth however despite having his character’s name on the poster he is nothing more than the Magical Negro.
Murphy says “yes, ma’am” and “no, ma’am” to the white family he is assigned to aid, smiling and offering sage life advice such as “there’s nothing better than a good story, every house should have books.” It never comes off as blatantly offensive, but director Bruce Beresford, who helmed “Driving Ms. Daisy,” never fully is able to break to glass ceiling and flesh Murphy’s character out as a real person. There is even a scene where the daughter goes into the kitchen one morning and for the first time in her life Mr. Church isn’t there cooking. So what does she do? She instantly goes into his room and sees if he is still asleep. Because the little white girl wants an omelet so dammit, she’s going to get one, how dare the hardworking Mr. Church sleep in one day?
Britt Robinson has a few scenes of emotional nuance, however all too often she is naggy and demanding and borderline unlikable, which is to be blamed on the script.
And the script, oh my, the script. Most of the time while watching a film, you don’t give the script much thought. Most movies flow along and you point out funny characters or well-staged action sequences but unless it is fantastic like a “Social Network” or even this year’s “Money Monster,” taking a step back and realizing someone wrote what people are saying is an afterthought.
Not here. The script is so in-your-face awful and full of so many attempts at pulling at the heart strings that things just become predictable way too soon. But that’s not the worst part. There are some lines of dialogue that made me physically cringe, like “I heard the doctors saying it was a miracle she was alive. I just wanted to look up and say, ‘haven’t you heard? Miracles run in the Brody family!’”
The whole film is aimless and at several points my friend and I looked at each other and asked one another what was going on because truly, this film has no plot. It’s just rinse and repeat scenes of Robertson wanting to know more about Mr. Church and Murphy coming home drunk from a mystery location (the film builds it up to be a big deal but chooses to resolve it with a single line in the closing minute).
“Mr. Church” tries to be a feel-good story but the only time I felt good was when the end credits come on screen and I left the theater. It was nice to see Murphy back but I wanted it to be in a comedy in which he can smile and laugh and make us do the same. Here, his smile is a cry for help and we are helpless to come to his aid.
Critic’s Rating: 3/10