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It's been 27 years since Bruce Beresford directed "Driving Miss Daisy," and his new movie "Mr. Church" manages to traffic in some of the same clichés about white folks learning life lessons from a wise African-American servant.
Eddie Murphy makes a rare dramatic turn as the title character, a jazz-loving cook hired to help out Marie Brooks (Natascha McElhone) and her 10-year-old daughter, Charlotte (Natalie Coughlin), in Los Angeles, circa 1971. Mr. Church is expected to work for six months the time Marie, who's fighting breast cancer, is expected to live but ends up staying for years, serving as Marie's nurse and a helper to college-bound Charlotte (played as an adult by Britt Robertson). While Mr. Church is supportive of Charlotte's dreams of being a writer, he's also furiously guarded about his privacy and what he does after hours.
An opening title card says the story is based on a real-life friendship, but it feels like screenwriter Susan McMartin (a veteran of the TV sitcoms "Two and a Half Men" and "Mom") was moved more by decades of melodramas about all-wise servants improving the lives of the people they serve. Murphy gives the thankless role some soul, and bit of a twinkle in his eye, but it's not enough to free the movie from a swamp of phony sentimentality.
Opens Friday, Sept. 16, at the Megaplex 20 at The District (South Jordan) and the Megaplex at Thanksgiving Point (Lehi); rated PG-13 for thematic elements; 104 minutes.