*½/**** Image N/A Sound B- Extras F
starring Eddie Murphy, Elizabeth Banks, Gabrielle Union, Scott Caan
screenplay by Rob Greenberg & Bill Corbett
directed by Brian Robbins
by Walter Chaw I'm eternally grateful to the infernal chemistry alchemized betwixt Mephistophlean Eddie Murphy and chowderhead Faust Brian Robbins for sparking the second-funniest headline in THE ONION's gallery of classic one-liners: "Eddie Murphy fucks self for $20M." (The funniest, for the record, is Gene Siskel's obit headline: "Ebert Victorious.") Who knew that Robbins' extraordinary inability to contribute anything of value to anything he's ever turned his baleful attention towards would be the mendacity needed to allow a couple of the gags in the latest Mur-Bins collaboration Meet Dave to work to whatever extent they do? Also helping is that the rampant misogyny and racism that marked their previous film together, Norbit, is toned down to a family-friendly sizzle this time around. Of course black people dance to hip hop and love processed meat stuffs; of course women like to cry and hold hands; and of course gay men come out not long after witnessing their first Broadway revue. Nothing says Grand Old Family Values like merrily sanctioning divisive stereotypes.
Better to not spend too long dwelling on the miscegenation subtext of this one and how, once push comes to shove, the white girl thinks twice about the black guy because the brother is not only from another planet, but also made of metal. One does take small comfort, however, in the fact that while Norbit topped out at a hundred mil, Meet Dave petered out at around twelve. It's not The Adventures of Pluto Nash, and with the Shrek franchise promising to bail Murphy and unfunny buddy Mike Myers out of every Love Guru imbroglio in which, by dint of their ego and judgment, they must inevitably find themselves again and again, it's obviously not enough to dissuade people from returning to the well--but it's still schadenfreude-riffic. Failure couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
Dave (Murphy) is a robot/spaceship that crash-lands next to the Statue of Liberty in recognition of the fact that Murphy will be spending the duration recycling his Coming to America shtick. Long live Yakov Smirnov, what a country. Seems Dave is piloted by a crew of Lilliputian aliens, "Nilians," here to steal our salt because salt is energy to them; Nilians also don't have emotions where they're from and so are ready to learn much from these primitive ape-creatures called humans on this great big happy blue ball. The first half of Meet Dave is Dave meeting little picked-on Josh (Austyn Myers) and becoming the boy's robot-protector (Terminator 2), the second is the mini-captain (Murphy, too) wanting to fuck Josh's mom Gina (Elizabeth Banks) with his spaceship. It goes without saying that this can't work out (the fucking part)--at least not without a wetsuit or something. Enter cultural officer No. 3 (Gabrielle Union) to be The Captain's more suitable (in size and colour) love interest.
Give Murphy credit for managing to be extremely creepy and inhuman in a sequence where he, inexplicably, learns how to walk in a straight-ripper from All of Me, then when he inexplicably has to learn how to smile, and finally when he acts like a complete asshole in imitating white person Mark (Marc Blucas), who, naturally, is a more appropriate love interest in size and colour for Gina. Hot on Dave's trail for no good reason are the bumbling NYPD, led by a cop (Scott Caan) who vacillates in demeanour between the Charles Martin Smith character from Starman and the Peter Coyote character from E.T.. Dreary in its predictability and execution, it all ends with Dave running out of energy beside the biggest source of salt on the planet before getting recharged by a fortunate taser, leading to the never-answered riddle of why it is that Meet Dave even bothered setting up lore in the first place.
Proving herself something of a one-trick pony, Banks is relegated to a mom role you hope doesn't stick (but appears to be sticking) while handling the absolutely thankless task of being Murphy's straight man. (The only job actually worse is being Robin Williams's straight man.) More to the point, it doesn't help that Meet Dave is poorly- paced and conceived, not funny, not touching, and not thought-provoking--meaning that as it's positioned as a sci-fi/romcom, it fails to achieve every single thing it hopes to achieve with stunning precision. Murphy adds to his gallery of grotesques, going through the motions in most closely paralleling fellow funnyman Steve Martin's decline rather than that of Shrek buddy Myers. (Myers, after all, has never done anything worth much of a shit.) Just as Martin still brings his "A" game sometimes (see: Shopgirl), Murphy comes up for air occasionally in roles like his in Dreamgirls, and it's those glimmers of substance that render the rest of his late-career decisions eternal puzzlements and weeping anticlimaxes.
Consider Murphy's own collaboration with Martin, 1999's Bowfinger: for all its aggressive mediocrity, it demonstrates a core intelligence that makes it that much more impossible to forgive stuff like Meet Dave and Martin's Inspector Clouseau. (And Bowfinger helmer Frank Oz is Ernst Lubitsch compared to Robbins.) In light of Martin's recent response to pans of his The Pink Panther 2, alleging that critics are snobs when it comes to doling out praise for comedies, I did wonder if I was being too hard on Meet Dave for a gag where a black guy force-fed processed meat asks for hot sauce, or a sequence where a gay guy insists on dancing to Latin music--with the punchline, inevitable, that his partner suspected something was amiss because straight men couldn't possibly dance so well. I think what it boils down to is the idea that funny, like pornography, is difficult to define--but I know it when I see it.
Bless Fox for giving us a check disc of Meet Dave for review, as it absolves me from trying to discern whether the constant pixelation and over-brightness is a result of telecine carelessness or the flim-flam encoded into this abortion to prevent me from bootlegging it for the masses not holding their collective breath to see it. The DD 5.1 audio is suitably spritely yet unimpressive--no less so in early scenes of exciting space travel and crashing. (Later, a water-cyclone loaded with potential for the sound engineers to do something cool is sadly relegated to the front channels.) I did wonder, though, if Holst's estate has any lawyers, because after it gets done suing the ever-loving shit out of John Williams, it should take a run at John Debney for this abomination of a score, which sounds, moment-to-moment, like direct lifts from E.T. and Star Wars (listen to the phrasing from 1:51 to 2:00). Call it "homage," I guess.
Perhaps knowing what they have, Fox lets the film speak for itself, only saddling one special feature to the thing in "Crew Confessions" (7 mins.), wherein the actors playing Nilians introduce themselves in character and then describe their individual functions on the ship as clips from the film unfold over them. It's extremely unfunny. Extremely, extraordinarily unfunny in fact. Enough so that it feels a bit like an Oscar telecast. Bam! No surprise that Murphy is nowhere to be found. The presentation rounds out with trailers for Space Chimps, What Happens in Vegas, Nim's Island, The Rocker, Garfield Funfest, and Angel Wars; there may be other extras on the fullscreen flipside, but that was not sent to us.
90 minutes; PG; 1.85:1 (16x9-enhanced), 1.33:1; English DD 5.1, French DD 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1; CC; English, Spanish subtitles; DVD-10; Region One; Fox