eddie murphy *(Via LA Times) – At the height of Eddie Murphy’s popularity, millions of Americans flocked to his hit films like “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Coming to America.”

Paramount Pictures executives are crossing their fingers that even a fraction of that interest surfaces for the actor’s “A Thousand Words,” a comedy that arrives in theaters this weekend nearly four years after it was made and seemingly a lifetime removed from Murphy’s 1980s heyday.

Going out with minimal publicity support from the star, the DreamWorks production has generated tepid interest in pre-release surveys, and analysts expect an opening weekend box office of less than $10 million. A Paramount spokeswoman said the movie cost $40 million. But two people familiar with the production who were not authorized by the studio to speak publicly on the subject pegged the price tag at about $70 million.

To boost interest, the studio has targeted female and African American filmgoers with a series of promotions and ads while hoping that Murphy’s return to his comedic wheelhouse will take care of the rest.

“This is a sweet, heartfelt movie, and it’s a chance to see Eddie do some very physical comedy,” said Megan Colligan, Paramount’s president of domestic marketing and distribution. “He’s really funny in this film.”

Throughout last year, Paramount played musical chairs with the “Words” release date, postponing the PG-13 film from Jan. 13, 2012, to March 23 (which would have pitted it against female-oriented juggernaut “The Hunger Games”), then delaying it to April 20. Finally, Steve Harvey’s “Think Like a Man,” a female-oriented comedy with several black stars, moved on to “Word’s” April 20 date, and Paramount opted to push up “Words” to March 9.

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