Meet Dave (United States, 2008)
Back in the 1980s, it wasn't uncommon to hear Eddie Murphy referred to as a "comic genius." 20 years later, the man who once made a concert film called Raw has become a purveyor of PG-rated pabulum. At one point, Murphy could deliver while collecting a big paycheck. These days, he seems to have given up on the former in the service of the latter. Meet Dave, Murphy's latest lackluster "family comedy," is a step up from Norbit, but that's damning with faint praise. (Meet Dave is helmed by Norbit's director, Brian Robbins - not a good sign.) After the early 2007 misfire, which some pundits believe cost Murphy an Oscar, there's nowhere to go but up. With Meet Dave, that trajectory is achieved but it doesn't go far enough to avoid disappointment.
Meet Dave is movie-making by the numbers. Murphy mugging for the camera: check. Obligatory bathroom joke: check. Flaccid romance: check. More mugging for the camera with physical comedy thrown in: check. Painful melodrama trying to tug at the heartstrings: check. Feel-good ending: check. This is the kind of movie any half-talented actor could do in his sleep, and one gets the feeling that Murphy is counting sheep (either that, or the dollars added to his bank account). There aren't even the occasional "clever" moments that many mediocre comedies like this offer, unless you count the various retread Star Trek parodies. (Any sci-fi comedy apparently must take time to lampoon Star Trek, even though Trek hasn't been culturally relevant for 15 years.)
Once again, in what has become a trademark, Murphy plays multiple roles. This time, however, he avoids fat suits and cross-dressing. With Shatneresque mannerisms, he plays the Captain of a spaceship he has piloted to Earth on a mission to save his home planet. Unfortunately, to do so requires draining the oceans of their water, thereby making concerns about Global Warming rather insignificant. Key members of the crew include the warlike and by-the-book Number Two (Ed Helms); the attractive Number Three (Gabrielle Union), who wishes the Captain would notice her; the security officer (Pat Kilbane); and the Engineer without a Scottish accent (Judah Friendlander). All these people are about an inch tall and they inhabit a ship (called "Dave") that appears from the outside to be a human-sized replica of their captain. Dave lands in New York City, more a fish out of water than Crocodile Dundee, and is taken in by a single mother, Gina (Elizabeth Banks), and her nerdy son, Josh (Austin Lynd Myers). Once the Captain determines that humans aren't all bad, he must decide if saving his planet is worth destroying another.
It would be unfair to lament that there are no funny sequences to be found throughout the whole of Meet Dave. Murphy is a gifted enough performer that even when he's on auto-pilot, he can convey the occasional mirthful moment. His co-stars, however, are marooned. Every half-hearted chuckle comes as a result of one or another of Murphy's antics. No one else is remotely amusing - not Ed Helms as the second-in-command with a broomstick up his butt, not Pat Kilbane as the A Chorus Line-obsessed security officer, and not Elizabeth Banks as the woman coping with Dave's odd behavior.
This is not Murphy's first fish-out-of-water comedy, but it's vastly inferior to his previous such endeavor, 1988's Coming to America. Murphy's re-visit to the genre two decades later is considerably less fresh and funny, although the PG rating may have something to do with that. Coming to America was unapologetically raunchy; Meet Dave is neutered. Sex jokes have been replaced by quips about Google, Yahoo, and Old Navy. Rather than making Meet Dave seem new and relevant, they merely highlight how tired this entire production is. This is made-for-TV material dressed up by Eddie Murphy's participation into a theatrical release.
Meet Dave (United States, 2008)
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Elizabeth Banks, Gabrielle Union, Scott Caan, Ed Helms, Kevin Hart, Pat Kilbane, Judah Friedlander
Screenplay: Rob Greenberg & Bill Corbett
Cinematography: J. Clark Mathis
Music: John Debney
U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox