[Screen It]

(2003) (Eddie Murphy, Jeff Garlin) (PG)

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Comedy: Having lost their jobs, several married men open a daycare center, but must contend with the challenges of that as well as the steely headmistress of a private academy who doesn't like them as the competition.
Charlie (EDDIE MURPHY) and Phil (JEFF GARLIN) are marketing professionals who work in the health division of a food manufacturer. When their latest product, vegetable-based cereal, flops with their focus group, they and their entire division are laid off. Accordingly, Charlie stays home with young son Ben (KHAMANI GRIFFIN), while wife Kim (REGINA KING) returns to the world of employed lawyers.

With weeks passing and their bank account dwindling, Charlie comes up with an idea of starting a daycare business in their home, particularly since the only other option for nearby parents is the expensive Chapman Academy run by the steely Miss Harridan (ANJELICA HUSTON).

Getting Phil and later their former mailroom co-worker Marvin (STEVE ZAHN) to join them, Charlie starts his center. They soon realize, however, that taking care of a group of kids and dealing with all of the state regulations is more challenging than any of them imagined. Even so, their facility becomes quite popular and begins to siphon off Harridan's clients, prompting her to do whatever it takes to ruin his business.

From that point on, Charlie and his partners must contend with her actions and the various daily challenges of running Daddy Day Care.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
If there's any industry known for giving second (and third and fourth) chances, it's Hollywood. Despite the familiar refrain of "You'll never work in this town again," most of those who've fallen from grace (and/or cost one or more studios millions upon millions in loses due to bad choices and/or diminished star appeal) get repeated chances to redeem themselves.

Take Eddie Murphy, who's been on a constant roller coaster of success and failure from the highs of some of his early 1980s work to the lows of "The Adventures of Pluto Nash." His "family friendly" films of recent - the "Dr. Dolittle" pics and "Shrek" - have done the best. Thus, it's not terribly surprising that he seems to be sticking with them, at least for the time being.

Beyond the pending "Shrek 2" and "The Haunted Mansion," the latest such film in which he appears is "Daddy Day Care." Working from the same premise that fueled the likes of "Kindergarten Cop" and "Mr. Mom," the film mixes kids and confounded adults for intended comedic results.

As written by Geoff Rodkey (making his feature debut), the effort most resembles that Michael Keaton comedy. Both feature men who end up staying home to take care of their children after losing their jobs and having their wives return to work. The difference here is that Murphy's character decides to turn "adversity" into profit by starting a daycare he'll run with his similarly unemployed former business partner who also happens to be a dad.

The storytelling theory appears to be that adding more kids and another perplexed father to the initial premise (of a dad staying home with his child) will increase the comedic hijinks proportionally. Additional children and even another adult - the always enjoyable Steve Zahn -- join the crowd, but beyond the latter's fun and funny performance, the increase in participants doesn't necessarily equal that of the overall entertainment value.

It doesn't help that director Steve Carr ("Dr. Dolittle 2," "Next Friday") has handled most everything in a rather flat manner. One must remember, of course, that he's trying to balance the offerings to entertain both kids and adults alike with their distinctive styles of humor.

For some reason, that seems to be more difficult with live action rather than animated films, and that's the case here. Even so, less discerning members of both demographics will likely find the offering entertaining to some degree. To me, it's not horrible or great, but falls somewhere in the instantly forgettable middle.

Viewers with any sort of history of seeing movies will probably predict where this movie's headed long before it gets there. In addition, some of the material feels a bit forced in terms of trying to be funny and/or cute. That especially applies to many of the kids, some of which are too young not to appear self-conscious on camera. Others, however, including Khamani Griffin (making his debut) as the protagonist's son, are literally as cute as a button.

As far as the adults are concerned, Murphy is in kinder/gentler mode (with occasional outbursts of exaggeration) and delivers a generally agreeable performance. Even so, one can't help but wish that the script tapped more of his expansive comedic reserve.

Regina King ("Down to Earth," "How Stella Got Her Groove Back") isn't present long enough to make much of an impression or difference playing his wife, while Jeff Garlin ("Full Frontal," "Bounce") plays the standard overweight comedic sidekick with the usual array of "funny" characteristics.

Anjelica Huston ("The Royal Tenenbaums," "Blood Work") plays a sort of Cruella de Vil type headmistress of an elite day care. While she has the comic villainess bit down pat (with some funny delivery of her lines), the script likewise shortchanges her character.

The most enjoyable role is filled by Steve Zahn ("National Security," "Joy Ride") who previously did the adult-kid dealings thing in "Happy, Texas." Given the best dialogue and character quirks (even if they're essentially recycled from other films), Zahn takes the material and makes the most of it, often with very funny results.

Had the rest of the film matched his efforts, it could have been a much better family friendly offering. Due to the okay but otherwise flat storytelling approach and the "been there, seen that" resemblance to other films such as "Mr. Mom," "Daddy Day Care" rates as just a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed May 3, 2003 / Posted May 9, 2003

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