This is the sort of movie that Hollywood can churn out in its collective sleep and audiences can watch without really waking up. It is as bland and predicable as a package of Kraft Macaroni and cheese, but likely to please the same target audience.
Eddie Murphy plays Charlie, who loves his wife, Kim (Regina King) and four year old son, Ben, but has trouble finding time for them due to a high pressure job in marketing. When his new product, breakfast cereal made from vegetables, is a flop, Charlie and his friend Phil (Jeff Garlin) are laid off. Kim has just started working, so Charlie stays home with Ben.
The only preschool in town is the snooty Chamberlin Academy, where children in prep-school uniforms study Freud, Portuguese, and SAT vocabulary words. It is run by mean Ms. Harridan (Anjelica Houston). When Charlie and Phil can’t find new jobs, they decide to start Daddy Day Care at Charlie’s house.
That gives us 20 minutes for the set-up, 30 minutes for everything to go wrong, and 30 minutes for Charlie and Phil to clean up their act and for the bad guys to almost win and then lose, with a few minutes for “what really matters in life is family” lessons along the way. They throw in some diaper humor for those in the audience most recently involved with potty training, some lite rock classics and an appearance by an aging rock band (Cheap Trick) to make the parents in the audience feel hip, and of course the bloopers and out-takes during the credits. The result is a movie that is undistinguished and undistinguishable but not too awful. It sags here and there, but picks up whenever Steve Zahn appears as an emergency recruit who may be a little spacey (in more senses than one), but who has knack for communicating with kids. But no one else seems to be trying very hard, including the people who spelled Anjelica Houston’s name wrong in the credits (or maybe she just didn’t want her real name on this movie).
Parents should know that the movie has some mildy naughty words (“butthead,” “screw up”) and a lot of potty humor. There is also some comic violence and slapstick (including a brief appearance by the Three Stooges). Kids may be troubled by the idea of a parent losing a job.
Families who see this movie should talk about how Charlie learned about what was important to him and how members of their own families show each other that family comes first. They should also talk about what the chldren learn from Phil, Charlie, and Marvin. What makes Tony want to be himself instead of Flash? Why wasn’t Crispin polite before and why is it so important that he learned to be polite from Charlie? Phil tells Charlie that Ben doesn’t like to do the “rocket ship” swing through the air. Why didn’t Charlie know that before? What did Charlie learn about listening to kids? Families might also want to discuss Ms. Harridan (look up that word in the dictionary to see what it means) and what was important to her. And they should talk about how Charlie’s boss thinks children can make parents buy things they don’t want to.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy 1983’s “Mr. Mom” with Michael Keaton. It is interesting to compare the ends of the two movies to see how times have changed.