During his days as SNL's reigning superstar, Eddie Murphy
loved to compare himself to Elvis. Sure enough: Two decades later, the former '80s funnyman is allowing his career to die the same way The King did -- naked, bloated, and on/in the toilet. One imagines that, as long as there are Shrek
sequels to keep him financially flush, the comedian turned commodity can crank out whatever cinematic self-delusions he wants. But with his latest effort, Meet Dave, Murphy faces one of his more daunting challenges ever -- erasing that atrocity known as
from pop culture's tortured palate. It's a feat he fails at, almost despite himself.
For the tiny extraterrestrials from the planet Nil, Earth seems like the perfect solution to their problems. With their homeland long depleted of its main energy source -- salt -- the aliens plan on using an ocean-draining orb to replenish their supplies. In their humanoid-shaped and -sized starship piloted by a courageous captain (Murphy), they will infiltrate Manhattan, locate the missing device (it crash landed there three months earlier) and complete their mission. Along the way, the newly-named vessel Dave Ming Chang (Murphy, again) will befriend a young widow (Elizabeth Banks
) and her son Josh (Austin Lynd Myers). As the police try to track down the man-shaped craft, a mutiny among the crew puts all in danger. Article continues below
Meet Dave has to be one of the most disorienting experiences of this or any recent summer. It's not that this movie is bad, or simply mildly mediocre. No, Eddie Murphy's latest faux family paycheck provider is such a surreal combination of science fiction, B-grade schlock, Hollywood formula, and attempted satire that one grows nauseous from its many mood swings. Movies aren't supposed to make you feel this perplexed, your brain constantly downshifting into various genre modes just to get a handle on what's going on. One moment, we're watching a silly Star Trek-styled spoof, complete with our star in full, clipped Jean-Luc Picard mode. The next, a too-cute kid is learning life lessons from a silly-walking-goofy-talking white-suited dude-slash-rocket.
If there is a villain in this creative whiplash, it's director Brian Robbins
. The former Head of the Class child star, who's gone on to make a name for himself as one of Nickelodeon's All That/Keenan and Kel masterminds, is so hackneyed behind the camera that he can't even get the butt jokes to work. Of course, he may have used up any remaining skill during his Hall of Shame stint as the helmer of Murphy's previous latex and make-up Oscar killer. Robbins' approach is flat and lifeless, his action scenes anemic and without scope. Even worse, he marginalizes his star, forcing him into a silent movie style of physical shtick and mugging that would make Ben Turpin turn over in his grave.
The rest of the starship's cast also indulges in performance overkill, their half-baked histrionics extolling caricature for character. As the Earthlings interacting with Dave, Banks and Lynd Myers are stock company compliant, given quirks where actually personality should exist. Perhaps the most shocking element here is the involvement of Mystery Science Theater 3000 alum Bill Corbett. Scripting along with TV vet Rob Greenberg, one wonders how much of said screenplay made it intact once Murphy attached his name to the project. There are barely any hints of his cult-classic past in this collection of gay stereotypes, hackneyed plot points, and single-digit IQ invention. Clearly aimed at the prepubescent set, only first-trimester zygotes will find this funny. While not offensively bad, Meet Dave is further proof that a one-time cutting edge funnyman will do almost anything for a dollar, anything except truly entertain us, that is.