Daddy Day Care (PG)
The metamorphosis of Eddie Murphy from edgy, profanity-spewing stand-up comic to all-round family comedian appears to be complete with this pleasant, engaging and, frankly, surprisingly enjoyable flick.
Murphy is a workaholic advertising man who is suddenly fired when his no-hoper of a campaign – feed kids a breakfast cereal made from vegetables – collapses. With no sign of a new job after six long weeks of unemployment he reluctantly becomes a househusband while his wife (Regina King) returns to her law practice.
Then, overhearing a local mum complain that there is no decent child day-care in the area, he convinces close pal and fellow sacked colleague Phil (Jeff Garlin) to be his partner in the suburb’s latest care programme: Daddy Day Care.
Cue a plethora of gags about wary mothers, unmanageable kids, visits from the local inspector and a somewhat contrived subplot involving a rival snooty prep school run by monstrous Miss Harridan (Anjelica Huston as part teacher, part dominatrix), and Murphy is set for a close encounter with pain, humiliation and utter chaos.
Yet while it’s all been seen and done before, there is a likeable thread running throughout. Murphy and Garlin introduce themselves to their charges by reading a self-penned mission statement. As an assistant they hire a Star Trek nerd (the excellent Steve Zahn) who communicates with kids on their unique level: he speaks Klingon. And they wreck Murphy’s house.
While its humour is predictable Daddy Day Care is delivered with such affection by director Steve (Dr Dolittle 2) Carr that it’s almost impossible to find fault with it. There is great fun to be had from seeing a grown man given a beating by a four-year-old child (cue lots of kicks to the groin, tearing of hair and general domestic vandalism of the paternal variety) while Huston, who looks like she’s stepped straight from the pages of a Roald Dahl novel, utters lines like “They are selling fun! I can’t compete with fun!”
Murphy’s comic timing, so often built on strident humour or aggression, here comes through best with throwaway one-liners that are tossed off with such effortless ease that they have often passed before their real value hits home. He’s also aided by the hitherto little known Garlin and Zahn, a grinning buffoon and inveterate scene-stealer whose innate knack in upstaging stars has never been more telling than here.
While it has more than a look of both Mr Mom and Kindergarten Cop about it, Daddy Day Care at least offers Murphy a break from the treadmill of recent stinkers like Showtime, Pluto Nash and I Spy.
Star rating: ***