Dir: Steve Carr. US. 2003. 93 mins

Working with animals in his two Dr Dolittle movies, Eddie Murphy produced some decent laughs and some good box office numbers (approaching $500m in total). Working with children in Daddy Day Care, Murphy and Dolittle 2 director Steve Carr come up with a bland-as-baby-food comedy that might keep tots pacified for a while but will do very little to engage their parents.In the US, Sony has given the film a quick theatrical run - in the X2/The Matrix Reloaded lull - which saw it take $27.6m from 3,370 sites. However, grosses will fall off quickly when the summer competition arrives. Video and ancillary markets are the best prospects overseas, given how Murphy's recent domestic hits such as I Spy and Showtime have underperformed internationally of late.

Playing a milder-mannered version of his Dolittle character, Murphy is Charlie Hinton, a mid-level advertising exec whose demanding job robs him of time with his wife (King, from Down to Earth) and four-year-old son (Griffin). When Charlie and colleague Phil (Garlin, of TV's Curb Your Enthusiasm) are fired and find themselves stuck at home watching their kids they come up with a business idea - why not start their own day care centre. Minding kids turns out to be tougher than they expected, of course, and they also have to deal with the machinations of Miss Gwyneth Harridan (Huston), headmistress of a strict and expensive rival day care operation.

While early scenes find some of their comedy in the pressures of parenthood, the film soon turns into a loosely structured collection of very basic slapstick sequences - and very mild potty gags - as Charlie and Phil struggle to keep control of their energetic wards. The only narrative interest comes from Miss Harridan's attempts to stop her pupils defecting to the new, cheaper and much more relaxed school in town.

The script by Geoff Rodkey (his first produced effort) does make some attempt to touch on parent-kid topics, like fun vs education and healthy vs sugary cereals. But it is only when Charlie and Phil get their jobs back and have to close the centre that the film gets into the fatherhood issues that might have given it real adult appeal.

The child performers (most of them making their movie debuts) are all cute enough, but only Griffin is required to do more than play havoc with the grown-up characters. Among the grown-ups, Murphy is relatively subdued and Huston gets too little screen time as the villainess of the piece. Also underused is the reliably funny Steve Zahn (Riding In Cars With Boys), who plays the centre's third 'daddy' Marvin.

Prod cos: Revolution Studios, Davis Entertainment
Int'l dist:
SPE (US), Revolution (Jap, Port, Is, Scan), Columbia TriStar Film Dist Int'l (rest)
Exec prods:
Joe Roth, Dan Kolsrud, Heidi Santelli
John Davis, Matt Berenson, Wyck Godfrey
Geoff Rodkey
Steven Poster
Prod des:
Garreth Stover
Christopher Greenbury
David Newman
Main cast:
Eddie Murphy, Jeff Garlin, Steve Zahn, Regina King, Anjelica Huston