Murphy Looks to Rebound as a Father Figure

Eddie Murphy dropped so many bombs last year, perhaps he should have been deployed to Iraq. But the comic isn't about to disappear like Saddam Hussein.

Murphy's back as a dad in Daddy Day Care after tanking at the box office last year with The Adventures of Pluto Nash — a chart topper on many critics' worst movie list — and the disappointing I Spy.

The former wisecracking Beverly Hills Cop says, at 42, it's a natural progression for him to play a big-screen dad who opens a day-care center after he and two buddies lose their jobs.

"I'm a parent, so I know how to relate to a kid in a cool way," Murphy says.

"That dynamic is just funny — a father who hasn't had enough time to spend with his children all of a sudden has to deal with kids is funny to watch." Following the Kids’ Lead

Once the biggest comic in Hollywood, Murphy's fared much better in recent years with family comedies like the Dr. Dolittle and Nutty Professor franchises. He's also scored as the voice of Shrek's donkey sidekick, a role he'll reprise in the sequel next year.

Joining Murphy in diapering duty are Steve Zahn and Jeff Garlin — and the trio have their hands full. One kid is allergic to everything, another insists on wearing a Flash superhero costume. The level of potty training isn't very high.

"You have to always be on your toes. You have to always be aware that [the kids] are probably not going to do it as written, so for me that was funny," says Garlin, a comic who's championed improvisational scripting as a producer of HBO's smash Curb Your Enthusiasm and a voice on Comedy Central's Crack Yankers.

"I didn't care," Garlin says of his kiddie co-stars. "I was happy to go wherever they went."

Zahn had worked with Murphy before, in Dr. Dolittle 2, and said that they just had to count on the kids to create mayhem.

"Cameras would be set up prior to us being there and there were not as many rehearsals because you don't want to waist the kids, because they can only work for three hours or so [a day]," Zahn says.

"If you're the supporting actor, you're in your trailer for 15 hours. I didn't get any cracker breaks, believe me."

Murphy says the kids were cast after a national talent search and it was amazing to see how quickly the 4-year-olds meshed together on the set.

"They completely understood the process," he says. "When the camera was off they'd be playful, then once the scene started they got right into performing."

Murphy and his wife, Nicole Mitchell, have been married 10 years and have three children together — Brea, 14, Miles, 11, and Shane, 9. The comic also has a 12-year-old son, Christian, with former girlfriend Tamara Moore.

Talk About Trading Places

Anjelica Huston joins the mix as headmistress of the exclusive Chapman Academy, where tots start prepping for the SATs, practically from birth.

"I like playing arch characters," Huston says. "I played a couple of witches in my time as well. It's a great opportunity to have fun and try new things."

Murphy, too, seems to be learning the virtues of branching out, after milking several blockbuster film franchises with diminishing returns. He's no longer playing the sharp-tongued wise guy from 48 Hours and Beverly Hills Cop.

Talk about Trading Places: The former bad boy of Saturday Night Live is teaching kids not to have potty mouths.

Lets just hope Murphy's children haven't seen him as "Mr. Robinson," teaching kids questionable vocabulary words in the classic SNL parody of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. It seems that Murphy doesn't go there anymore. Times change, and every dad was once a kid … and a brat.