Calling to mind everything from Kindergarten Cop to Mr. Mom, director Steve Carr's Day Care pits unemployed fathers Charlie (Murphy) and Phil (Jeff Garlin) against an army of adorable adolescents when the dads decide to earn cash by opening a day care center. Steve Zahn tags along, polishing the edges off his goofball slacker persona with touching and humorous results. Meanwhile, Anjelica Huston assumes an off-kilter dominatrix mentality to play the headmaster at a rival preschool.
It's all an elaborate setup so the men can transform from distracted dads to responsible pops. Like the kids in the cast, Day Care is sporadically energetic and cute as a button, but in dire need of discipline. Carr's taste is in question, as potty jokes outnumber relevant messages on modern parenting by about 5 to 1. But you have to appreciate the director's patience. It must have taken an eternity to capture the clever reaction shots and cute one-liners that he squeezes out of his attention-challenged kid cast. The final outtakes hint at the number of blown takes and botched lines the adults likely had to endure.
Murphy certainly doesn't hit a home run with Day Care, but seems content with a series of singles to shallow right field that should rejuvenate his box office standing at the expense of his comic credibility. Movie by movie, the once-hilarious star lulls himself further into a passive existence where he cranks out mildly amusing adolescent fare. It's disconcerting because we know he's capable of more than this. But the same can be said for Garlin, who gets huge laughs in HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm but takes more abuse than the Dixie Chicks at the Republican National Convention in Day Care. Kids may giggle, but adults will wince and wish they could protect the man's groin.
Judging by the amount of movement and chatter at my screening, parents will get more out of Day Care than their kids. Carr makes sure the movie's juvenile jokes and messy mishaps occur in five minute rotations, so adults will only miss one or two of each when they're walking their fidgety child to the bathroom. Just be sure to sit on the end of the row if you take your child. Your fellow patrons will thank you for it. Hmmm, looks like the filmcritic.com staff get-together.
Run time: 92 mins
In Theaters: Friday 9th May 2003
Box Office USA: $104.1M
Box Office Worldwide: $164.4M
Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Production compaines: Revolution Studios, Davis Entertainment, TriStar Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 28%
Fresh: 35 Rotten: 92
IMDB: 5.5 / 10
Director: Steve Carr
Screenwriter: Geoff Rodkey
Starring: Eddie Murphy as Charlie Hinton, Jeff Garlin as Phil, Steve Zahn as Marvin, Regina King as Kim Hinton, Kevin Nealon as Bruce, Siobhan Fallon as Peggy, Lacey Chabert as Jenny, Jonathan Katz as Dan Kubitz, Lisa Edelstein as Crispin's Mom, Laura Kightlinger as Sheila, Leila Arcieri as Kelli, Anjelica Huston as Mrs. Gwyneth Harridan, Khamani Griffin as Ben Hinton, Max Burkholder as Max, Arthur Young as Nicky, Cheap Trick as Cheap Trick, Damani Roberts as German Speaking Boy
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