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Dustin Putman

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Meet Dave  (2008)
2 Stars
Directed by Brian Robbins.
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Elizabeth Banks, Gabrielle Union, Austyn Lind Myers, Scott Caan, Ed Helms, Kevin Hart, Mike O'Malley, Pat Kilbane, Judah Friedlander, Marc Blucas, Adam Tomei, Miguel A. Nunez Jr.
2008 – 92 minutes
Rated: Rated PG (for suggestive humor and mild language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 12, 2008.
These days the crummiest of movies can be made to look good with a well-cut theatrical trailer, which is why "Meet Dave" appeared to be potentially apocalyptic. A sci-fi comedy starring Eddie Murphy is unavoidably going to rustle up horrific memories of 2002's historically awful "The Adventures of Pluto Nash," but even more dire was the fact that 20th Century Fox couldn't find one film clip—let alone two-and-a-half minutes' worth—that looked the least bit appealing. Indeed, the advertising for "Meet Dave" has been about as bad as it gets, and will be the reason why the picture is a big financial failure. How can a studio expect audiences to show up for something that is physically painful to see even as a thirty-second television ad?

To sit down to watch "Meet Dave"—or, for that matter, anything with Murphy in the cast—is to naturally expect the worst. Shock of all shocks, what looked like the nadir of the faltering funnyman's career is actually his most watchable live-action comedy since 1999's "Bowfinger" almost a decade ago. The viewer cannot dispute that "Meet Dave" is innumerably flawed, has a ridiculously silly plot and is peppered in cornball cheesiness. These very things, though, are somewhat part of the fun in a 2008 big-screen offering that would be more at home smack-dab in the middle of the 1980s. For someone who grew up in that decade, "Meet Dave" has all the ingredients of a childhood favorite, the kind of movie you watched so much as a kid that you wore out the videocassette. Sometimes the memory of these films is better than the ultimate reality, but that still cannot take away the nostalgic place you retain in your heart for it as an adult.

A fish-out-of-water premise taken to the extreme, "Meet Dave" features Eddie Murphy (2007's "Norbit") in yet another dual role, both as a human-looking space vessel and as the tiny captain inside the body who is controlling its every move. The spaceship, clunkily named Dave Ming Chang, along with the number-one head captain and his assistants, No. 2 (Eddie Helms) and No. 3 (Gabrielle Union), have crash-landed in New York City on a desperate search for salt as means of saving their endangered planet of Nil. Their mission is sidetracked, however, when Dave is hit by a car driven by widowed mother Gina Morrison (Elizabeth Banks). As the oddball Dave hits it off with both Gina and her 11-year-old son Josh (Austyn Lind Myers), the internal commander gradually begins to adjust to the foreign customs of earthlings and comes to realize that mankind isn't nearly as hopeless or expendable as predicted.

Directed by Brian Robbins (2006's "The Shaggy Dog") and scripted by Rob Greenberg and Bill Corbett (the latter a writer on "Mystery Science Theater 3000"), "Meet Dave" is juvenile and not exactly the result of Mensa members. The situational narrative finds Dave moving throughout the city and getting into a series of misadventures, all the while trying to adapt to what is being learned from the people around him. He creeps out an older woman by unsuccessfully trying to return a warm smile she gives him. He visits the famed Apple store across from Central Park. He shops for clothes at Old Navy and defecates cash like an ATM machine. He stumbles into the Broadway production of "A Chorus Line." He bids good-bye to Gina by proclaiming, "I must now exit into the night." The experiences go on from there, and, while some of them fail to follow through with the joke and run into dead-ends, other scenes are spirited and clever. Aiding the uneven screenplay is editing by Ned Bastille (2004's "The Perfect Score") that keeps the pace light and fast enough so that it never becomes a chore.

This is the kind of film that doesn't provide too many big laughs, but does induce a whole lot of smiles. Even when director Brian Robbins goes overboard—a gay character is distastefully portrayed as a stereotypical flamer; the action-laden climax goes on too long and exhibits special effects not quite at the level of 1989's "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids;" the end credits sing-along to Earth, Wind & Fire is the antithesis of hip—his flaws actually back up and benefit the whole frivolously entertaining feel of an '80s comedy. Meanwhile, other scenes truly are surprisingly effective and sweet, including one in which the alien captain and his lovelorn No. 3 watch "It's a Wonderful Life" for the first time, and another where Dave and Gina discuss their feelings over a painting she once did. Comic-fueled references ranging from Google and Yahoo to Cap'n Crunch and musician Meat Loaf are additionally sly and unexpected. By contrast, a gag involving Britney Spears' head-shaving escapades is outdated and cheap.

A narcisist with an indiscriminating taste in scripts, Eddie Murphy is definitely capable of giving good performances even when the material surrounding him isn't there. His rare dramatic turn in 2006's "Dreamgirls" showed a side of him scarcely seen before, while even the dim-witted "Norbit" gave him two distinct and inspired characters to bring to life. His mannered, stilted speech as the commander, better to show that he's not of this world, works for the part, while his work as the mechanical outer shell of Dave is simultaneously disconcerting and humorous.

As No. 3, who harbors feelings for the commander, Gabrielle Union (2007's "The Perfect Holiday") is attractive and winning. On the human side, Elizabeth Banks (2008's "Definitely, Maybe") is luminous as would-be love interest Gina, so warm and inviting that she saves the role from coming off as moronic. After all, Gina barely bats an eyelash at Dave's disturbing actions and behaviors when any normal person would run screaming for the hills. As Gina's son Josh, newcomer Austyn Lind Myers is unpolished but charismatic. The rest of the cast are afterthoughts, with Mike O'Malley (2008's "Leatherheads") and Scott Caan (2007's "Ocean's Thirteen") acting as irritants rather than attributes as suspicious police investigators Dooley and Knox.

The jury's still out on whether or not "Meet Dave" would qualify as a good motion picture, but, in its own way, it is a fun movie. The interplay between the captain and No. 3, as well as his relationship to Gina and Josh, root the film with some much-appreciated levity and help to smooth out the rougher sections. And, as the story of a literal alien trying to make it in a land unlike his own, director Brian Robbins is resourceful and economical, if not reaching the loftier, sounder heights of 2000's underrated "What Planet Are You From?" The studio is to blame for the box-office flop "Meet Dave" is destined to be, and it's unfortunate. It's not every day Eddie Murphy releases something that doesn't make you want to bust your ear drums and rip your eyes out.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman