Picks and Pans Review: Daddy Day Care

updated 05/19/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/19/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Eddie Murphy, Jeff Garlin, Regina King, Steve Zahn, Anjelica Huston

Talking animals are one thing, but Murphy is too shrewd a comedian to try to score points off a battalion of noisily adorable children. Apart from one physical gag in which he unintentionally walks a little boy into a door, his presence in this agreeable family entertainment is benign and respectfully recessive. It's almost as if the spirit of Fred Rogers—whom Murphy once so brilliantly parodied on Saturday Night Live—hovered over the set, ready to drop down a cardigan and tennis shoes.

Murphy plays a hotshot ad man who loses his job after a kids' test group rebels against a new vegetable-flavored cereal. He and his work partner (Garlin), both smarting from their new Mr. Mom status, decide it can't be hard to put their situation to entrepreneurial use. They open a daycare center. In tumble the child actors, their individual screen time as carefully parceled out as if they were all-stars in a disaster movie. The movie is a pleasant enough sort of daycare, a softly sunny, inoffensive way for a family to pass 93 minutes. There's bathroom humor, of course, but it's broad and unobjectionable. In a Jackass world, a potty-training joke set to the shrieking violins of Psycho is almost inspired.

With Murphy thoroughly mellowed out, the real comic burden falls to his costars. Garlin, the roly-poly foil to Larry David on HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, is brash, enthusiastic and bumptiously cheerful, something like John Goodman without the bear claws. Jonathan Katz (the voice of Comedy Central's old Dr. Katz) plays a state daycare inspector named Dan Kubitz, a timid, decent man whose words crumble away even as he speaks them, as if his tongue were a Pecan Sandy. Given the chance to put on a puppet show, he acts out his life's frustrations with a Mr. Spock action figure. (PG)

BOTTOM LINE: Acceptable little Care package

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