Murphy muddles through `Meet Dave'

July 10, 2008 9:58:54 AM PDT
"Meet Dave." Or don't. Eddie Murphy doesn't particularly seem to care one way or the other.

Essentially phoning in the broad, family friendly shtick that has become his trademark over the past decade, Murphy stars as both a human-sized spaceship that has landed on Earth and its itty-bitty captain, who is at the controls from inside the ship's head.

It's a high-concept premise from screenwriters Rob Greenberg ("Frasier") and Bill Corbett ("Mystery Science Theater 3000"), but the execution is mostly lowbrow. Director Brian Robbins, whose "Norbit" with Murphy last year looks like a bold slice of comic genius by comparison, runs through a variety of bland fish-out-of-water scenarios in workmanlike fashion. (And let's not forget that for all eternity, we can refer to it as the Academy Award-nominated "Norbit," since it was recognized for its complex makeup.)

Dave, as the spaceship awkwardly names himself once he figures out how to speak, must navigate the streets of New York as part of his plan to drain Earth of all its water and bring the salt back to his own planet. This requires him to hail cabs, go clothes shopping (in what amounts to a shameless ad for Old Navy) and eventually enter a hot-dog eating contest - which leads to the obligatory bathroom gag afterward. Murphy's keen mimicry skills come in handy when the character meets new people and copies their behavior in hopes of blending in; it's good for a couple of laughs.

("Meet Dave," by the way, originally was known as "Starship Dave," which made a whole lot more sense. But the sci-fi nature of the name might have reminded people of Murphy's most infamous flop, "The Adventures of Pluto Nash," and so perhaps that's why we have this utterly forgettable title instead.)

At first, the captain and the other tiny beings who keep Dave running (played by Ed Helms, Gabrielle Union and Kevin Hart, among others) think this place is crude and confusing, which allows the film to take some obvious stabs at the absurdity of pop culture (Britney Spears, the Bee Gees, "Fantasy Island"). But, gosh, wouldn't you know it? In time, they'll realize humanity isn't such a cesspool after all, which manifests itself in the consumption of mojitos, some MySpace browsing and an unfortunately over-the-top gay stereotype.

The infinitely likable Elizabeth Banks ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Invincible") goes completely to waste as Gina, the human who befriends him after accidentally hitting him with her car. (Next up, she plays Laura Bush in Oliver Stone's "W.," which will give her a better opportunity to show what she can do.)

But while everyone thinks Dave is kind of a weirdo for the stiff, halting way he moves and talks, Gina's young son, Josh (Austyn Lynd Myers), sees the potential for good in him from the start. Likewise, kids in the audience will probably enjoy watching Murphy walk in herky-jerky style down the street and giggle at the physicality of his many misadventures.

Sure, they'll have fun. But they deserve better.

"Meet Dave," a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG for bawdy and suggestive humor, action and some language. Running time: 90 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.

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