Daddy Day Care
review by Elias Savada, 9 May 2003

Mention three-year-olds wielding a large pair of scissors or motoring about the yard on a riding lawn mower in the first sentence of a film review and everybody's going to get the wrong impression about the new hit from Eddie Murphy. No, Daddy Day Care is not Toddlers of the Damned. It's Toddlers of the Damned Funny.

Murphy, following last year's disastrous outings (I Spy, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Showtime), returns to the family-man/cartoon-situation comedies (Doctor Dolittle, The Nutty Professor, and their successful sequels) that reinvented the actor's career among a whole new demographic: the younger, family-oriented, G-rated variety. Teamed up with the full-sized Jeff Garlin (Curb Your Enthusiasm), the zany Steve Zahn, and a passable yet barely realistic script by freshman scribe Geoff Rodkey, the film succeeds because the capable cast is handled well by director Steve Carr (who had similar chores on Dolittle 2). Carr, apparently inspired by Chuck Jones and his Road-Runner approach to cartoon filmmaking, moves the action impressively from one preposterously funny sequence to the next once the movie's simple premise is set up: two out-of-work advertising executives open an unorthodox childcare service, catering to a dozen or so kids, an occasional parent, some hellishly overwritten competition, and a sympathetic government inspector.

The story revolves around the unemployed Charlie Hinton (Murphy) and his wife Kim (Regina King), who slides into the breadwinner role courtesy of a dormant law degree. She gets the Benz convertible, he gets daytime custody of their four-year-old son, Ben (Khamani Griffin, who already knows how to steal a scene or two). Commiserating with fellow layoff-victim and father Phil (Garlin) about their strained financial obligations, a casual comment pushes the idiotic idea that the men could make a go as cut-rate guardians to several of the neighborhood kids.

Meanwhile, the Hintons attend a school orientation  at the posh, hoity-toity Chapman Academy, where they had hoped to enroll Ben before dad's work situation worsened.  There, they encounter a small tyke reciting his numbers. In German. Anjelica Huston, borrowing broadly from her role as the grand high witch in The Witches (1990), a delightful adaptation of the Roald Dahl book, is reincarnated in Daddy Day Care as Gwyneth Harridan, the authoritarian, conniving headmistress who strives for perfect demeanor, marine corps diligence, and a subversive, dirty fight with the new competition in town.

The film hits best with its many short, effective sequences and the ensuing slings, arrows, and punch lines that find the Hinton's previously immaculate Victorian home, and its adult occupants, under siege and disarray. The initial introductions (the men's two boys and seven sporadically monstrous loaners, including a Drew Barrymore, E.T.-vintage lookalike) produce bedlam amid the unconventional, scarcely licensed, and barely lawful supervision by the two dads and their unsteady day care supervision skills. Separation anxiety, a broad list of possible allergic reactions to various food dyes, sugar overloads, misguided soccer kicks, and Phil's son Max's explosive bowel problem provide the early set-ups that need to be dealt with or, at least, provide an unsubtle comic reaction. The most priceless joke incorporates Bernard Herrmann's violin shrieks from Psycho, as Charlie surveys, off-screen, the extensive damage little Max has wrought on his bathroom. In case you don't get the obvious bow to The Three Stooges, that veteran comic trio pops up on a television set and in the film's dialogue. (Why not, the film is being released by Columbia, the aggressive, violent team's production home for nearly twenty-five years. 

Then, there's Steve Zahn, one of the most unusually goofball actors in any film. My two favorites to date: Nurse Betty and Happy, Texas. His semi-dimwitted role as Marvin, the third cog in the child-care wheel, starts with a walk-on wearing vintage 1960s Star Trek regalia, segues to conversing in Klingon with one of the youngsters, blossoms with a Wrath of Khan puppet show (assisted by Jonathan Katz, as the kind-hearted, milquetoast daycare inspector), and mind-melds when he calms the growing brood (now up to fourteen) because he inadvertently absorbed one of the several child care books by Dr. Spock, confusing the author with the character endeared to millions of fans by Leonard Nimoy 

The weakest part of the film revolves around broccoli and carrot suits, a silly advertising campaign for vegetable-flavored cereal, and their nemesis (Kevin Nealon) at the old firm. It's still good for a yuck or two.

Like Moe, Larry, and Curly, their popular, more vulgar ancestors, Eddie, Jeff, and Steve stooge it up in fine PG-fashion in Daddy Day Care. Child care was never this much fun.

Directed by:
Steve Carr

Starring:
Eddie Murphy
Jeff Garlin
Steve Zahn
Regina King
Anjelica Huston
Kevin Nealon
Khamani Griffin

Written by:
Geoff Rodkey

Rated:
PG - Parental
Guidance Suggested.
Some material may
not be appropriate for
children.

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