Isn't it about time for Eddie Murphy to pull that Elvis Presley style swansong he's been threatening ever since he first became obsessed with the King - and no, we don't mean cutting a somber recording of "My Way". Instead, we're referencing the "dying on the commode" part of the Boy from Tupelo's legacy. After stinking up silver screens with his horrendous Oscar buzzkiller Norbit, Murphy looked like he was about to right his regressive career fortunes. He chose to take on a spec script co-crafted by MST3K's Bill Corbet entitled Spaceship Dave. Even the premise had promise - a humanoid starship with a Lilliputian crew comes to Earth in search of a certain natural resource. "It" falls in love with a single mom - kind of like Fantastic Voyage meshed with an interstellar Splash. Yet somewhere between visualization and reality, the eventual Meet Dave turned into a turd. How did that happen? What went so very, very wrong? Only a former SNL-er turned superstar can answer to those charges.
For the minuscule population of Nil, Earth represents the answer to their interplanetary prayers. With their extraterrestrial homeland long depleted of its main energy source - salt - the aliens plan on using an ocean-draining orb to replenish their supplies. In a humanoid-shaped starship piloted by a courageous and somewhat arrogant captain, they will penetrate New York, locate their missing probe (it crashed in Manhattan some three months earlier) and complete their mission. Along the way, the newly-named vessel Dave Ming Chang will befriend a young widow and her son Josh. As the police try to track down the man-shaped craft, a mutiny among the crew puts all of their plans in danger.
Where did it all go wrong? How did the assumed quality work of Mystery Science Theater alumnus Bill Corbett and How I Met Your Mother producer Rob Greenberg (both are credited with the script) end up looking like a bad example of Nickelodeon on Nyquil. Make no mistake about it - Meet Dave is just that bad. It's brazenly awful, unapologetically inert. If zombies could invent zombies and then teach them how to make movies, the results would still be 10,000 percent more alive and entertaining than this stillborn slop. While it's clear that star Murphy and his dimwitted director cohort Brian Robbins are aiming this item at the pre-tween set, it's hard to imagine grade schoolers enjoying this dull, uninspired effort. Actually, this is one very schizophrenic film. It has such cinematic mood swings, battling between formulaic family friendly fare, grade z b-movie schlock, sloppy social commentary, and failed sci-fi that overall it could probably use a few dozen shock treatments to straighten it out. Even then, one imagines the infusion of energy would only confuse the cast and crew.
Murphy maintains his standard 'couldn't give a shit' attitude throughout. As Dave the starship, he tries to channel Chaplin and Keaton. He winds up looking like a post-autopsy Arbuckle. His lack of physical comedy skill is only matched by his endless mugging. There is nothing subtle in his rocket as real person performance. Things only get worse, however, when he lunges headfirst into alien captain mode. Putting on that most obnoxious of faux accents - the snooty uppercrust Brit - our ersatz hero constantly reminds us that, while a real UK brogue can sell practically anything, a fake one is like substituting the local pub's Guinness with near beer. In either configuration, the man who made us laugh uncontrollably all throughout 48 Hours, The Nutty Professor, and Bowfinger is all but absent nowadays. The rest of the cast is underutilized and uninspired. From the gay-bashing affront of the fey first mate to the "what were they thinking" inclusion of a X-Files obsessed cop, Meet Dave seems strategically designed to disappoint everyone. Those not disheartened are probably too busy being insulted - mentally or ethnically.
Which again brings us to the question of Corbett and Greenberg's involvement. No critic is stupid enough to think that everything the duo put down on paper made it into the movie unscathed, and there have been dozens of examples where star hubris, directorial incompetence, studio interference, and poor casting choices have undermined a perfectly flawless film script. But Meet Dave is so bad, so inexcusably lame, that you have to imagine that some of this stuff came right from inside the writer's minds. In retrospect, the concept of a spaceship shaped like a human being seems a little silly, and even with the most gifted of slapstick experts in the part, the amount of F/X assisted disbelief suspension would be too great to achieve. Then add in all the 'stranger in a strange land' shifts, the aliens learning about Earth in emotion-enhanced drips and drabs. Frankly, something like that is bound to fail. Murphy may have just been the creative catalyst to Meet Dave's formidable flopsweat, but he's not off the hook. He's just as important to its downfall as any other aspect of the production.
Presented by Fox in every critic's favorite "Screening Only" review copy format (complete with random logo placement), it's hard to comment on the image here. The transfer offered is not that impressive, but then again, it's not final product. One hopes the actual 1.85:1 widescreen anamorphic image surpasses the slightly compressed and faded version experienced for this review. One does not hold out hope, however. Frankly, the movie looked rather cheap in theaters as well.
Though information indicates that this screener provides all the necessary sonic situations of the final Fox packaging, this critic will again reserve judgment. The Dolby Digital 5.1 offered was good. The back channels come alive whenever the action starts up, and there are some nicely ambient moments of suspense, but the rest of the time, the speakers hardly spark. The musical score is fine, however, and the dialogue is easily discernible.
Aside from an interview featurette with several of the cast, the Meet Dave DVD has no other bonus features to speak of. And that's not surprising, considering the film's commercial crash and burn this past Summer. Still, one wonders why some of those patented "kid friendly" bonuses weren't added - you know, mindless remote control games, trivia contests passing as educational entertainment. Apparently, even something like that was out of the question.
In retrospect, it's hard to see how Meet Dave could ever work. Maybe if the script had been adhered to, avoiding all the present day pop culture pissing that Murphy and the cast clearly improvised into the narrative. Perhaps had a completely different cast been hired, avoiding anything remotely representing some star vehicle variance. It could have been the bringing on of Norbit know-nothing Brian Robbins. Everything in his resume suggests he couldn't handle this kind of fantasy fodder. Whatever the rationale, Eddie Murphy's most recent filmic folly deserves a definitive Skip It. There is nothing here warranting even the slightest rental consideration. And guess what - Murphy and Robbins will soon be back in the high concept crapstain A Thousand Words. The synopsis states, and we quote, "A blasé guy learns that he has only 1,000 words left to speak before he will die." Oh joy. Here's guessing we'll be having the Eddie/Elvis argument again sometime after this tragedy's Fall 2009 release.
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