When Eddie Murphy burst onto the scene in the early 80s, it was his mouth that led the charge. For a solid decade, he was one of the brightest (and filthiest) comedy minds out there, and the more he talked, the funnier he was.

So why on Earth would he agree to make a movie whose central premise requires him to keep his mouth shut?

It’s like Channing Tatum keeping his shirt on, or Tom Hanks playing a bad guy. It just doesn’t work.

But that’s exactly what we get in A Thousand Words, and just like that, the progress that Murphy made with Tower Heist is instantly erased. (To be fair, though, A Thousand Words was actually filmed four years ago but was delayed by revisions and reshoots.)

Here Murphy plays motor-mouthed literary agent Jack McCall, a wise-cracking jerk who treats everyone under him like trash, particularly his goofball assistant Aaron (Clark Duke).

When Jack visits a super-popular guru to talk the man into selling Jack’s agency the right to a self-help book, Jack instead walks away the victim of a particularly bad bit of karma. A tree miraculously pops up in Jack’s backyard, and he soon realizes that a leaf falls for every word he speaks (or writes, or gestures). When all thousand leaves have fallen, he’ll die.

And so begins what should have been a decent movie– Jack is forced to mime his morning coffee order, rely on talky toys to broker a deal with a publishing house, and play poor man’s Pictionary to explain to Aaron what’s going on.

But instead it’s here where things start going south quickly. Instead of (oh, I don’t know…) calling in sick to work and (hmm, maybe…) economically using a dozen or so words to explain to his wife what’s going on, Jack keeps his mouth shut.

Before he can blink, his marriage and career are in dire straits, and we’re all left wondering why he would choose to use up several words by singing ‘The Wheels on a Bus’ in his kid’s preschool and then refuse to say even one word to his lady as she’s walking out the door.

But even beyond that, the real flaw with A Thousand Words is that it masquerades as a life lesson about using kind words with people and making each word count but then takes a neck-snapping left turn and becomes a mediation on the importance of family and forgiveness. Huh, what?

It’s hard to blame Murphy for this debacle (aside from his decision to sign on for it)– he actually manages to do a decent job here, and there are signs that he’s just one good movie away from officially making his comeback. And Clark Duke steals almost every scene he’s in.

The real offenders are the folks behind the camera– director Brian Robbins (who is also responsible for two of Murphy’s other bombs—Norbit and Meet Dave) and screenwriter Steve Koren.

Robbins just can’t seem to make up his mind about what kind of movie he’s making. There are times when it feels like A Thousand Words could hearken back to Murphy’s PG-rated, family-friendly work and just be a cute, light-hearted romp, but then we get a healthy smattering of profanity and the image of Jack’s wife standing in a hotel room in a leather bikini.

Koren, meanwhile, should be the target of an immediate audit by the Writers Guild of America. First he gave us Jack and Jill, and now this? A Thousand Words is so poorly written that you’ll wish Dreamworks had squashed the whole idea way back in the beginning with one simple word… ‘no’.

1/5 stars