You know he’s from another planet when you realize that not only is Eddie Murphy’s character in Meet Dave unfamiliar with the maternal fashion adage to never wear white after Labor Day but that if his goal is to remain inconspicuous in contemporary New York, he should never wear a white suit after the 1970’s. Of course, had he worn more suitable attire to avoid what he refers to as his “wardrobe debacle,” then Meet Dave would have lost the precious few jokes that actually work in the opening thirty minutes of Eddie Murphy’s latest cinematic disaster as we find the white-suited character mistaken for the ice cream man by hungry children before learning that he drew inspiration from Mr. Roarke and Tattoo greeting guests with “Da plane! Da plane!” from the 1970’s television series, Fantasy Island.
Why Fantasy Island? Well, it seems it’s the only Earthly transmitted image he could receive in outer space, given the weak signal strength. (And you thought your cell phone reception was bad!) To explain--keeping with the Murphy tradition of playing numerous characters in each of his films, sometimes to marvelous effect (Bowfinger) and downright disastrous (pretty much everything else after 2000), in Meet Dave we learn that Murphy’s primary character is an alien captain leading a space mission to save his planet along with a dedicated crew of very, very little people who are less than two inches tall. However, the catch is that the vessel occupied by the mission’s crew isn’t the typical flying saucer one would expect but a human-sized replica of the Captain himself, giving new meaning to the film’s tag line that we’re watching “Eddie Murphy in Eddie Murphy.” (Cue the obligatory Keanu Reeves like “whoa!”)
Shortly after the film opens, we follow as Murphy—utilizing a terrifically silent film styled comedic and mime-like approach—tries to assimilate with fellow humans on Earth, forcing his lips into an awkward smile to duplicate the expression of an old woman and mimicking the downright orthopedically nightmarish poses of dummies in a store window. Meanwhile the devoted crew inside his “body” (played by Gabrielle Union, Ed Helms, Kevin Hart, Pat Kilbane, Judah Friedlander, Adam Tomei and others) struggles to keep up with the external chaos while advising his every action. Needless to say the fact that his quest for their planet’s missing orb has landed him directly into one of the busiest, most notoriously aggressive and fast-paced cities isn’t making their job any easier and it’s only a matter of time before he’s knocked over by a motorist named Gina (played by the lovely Heights, Definitely, Maybe, and Invincible star Elizabeth Banks).
Fearing a lawsuit, the bohemian painter and widowed single mother invites the strange Captain up to her apartment for some water, where he not only struggles to pretend to “drink” while inside his ship the crew must deal with a tidal wave of water, but also gets his first chance to practice conversation. Upon realizing he must create a name, on the advice of his adoring girl Friday, Gabrielle Union’s No. 3, he dubs himself Dave Ming Chang before rushing off to rectify the problem of his outdated suit which—by this point—has served as not only a running gag but a plot arc for the undercooked script from surprisingly Yale Drama School educated writers Rob Greenberg (Frasier, How I Met Your Mother) and Bill Corbett (Mystery Science Theatre 3000). Landing at Old Navy, the film’s laughs continue as Dave mistakes the store greeter’s obligatory “Welcome to Old Navy” as a ritualistic statement he uses throughout the film’s most comically successful sequence since Murphy first set foot in New York’s concrete jungle, before—and par for Murphy’s course—the scene and indeed a majority of the rest of the film ends up relying too heavily on juvenile scatological humor.
Unfortunately, it really shouldn’t have been this way as I’d genuinely enjoyed Meet Dave early on, recalling once again the Murphy from my youth who made me laugh until my stomach hurt in the original Beverly Hills Cop. However, as the novelty of the ingenious premise wears off, the film morphs into a seemingly endless, really bad Saturday Night Live styled skit. And far more detrimental to its success, in trying to reach every ticket buying demographic, director Brian Robbins (Norbit) tries to cram in way too much plot, never sure if he wants to structure Meet Dave as a family film, a science fiction movie, or an unlikely romantic comedy as Dave finds himself growing attached to Gina and her young son Josh (newcomer Austyn Lind Myers) all the while realizing that the aptly named No. 3 (Union), is beginning to feel like the ultimate third wheel, caught up in an unrequited love triangle with Dave.
While initially there are enough laughs to amuse Murphy’s most ardent fans, the picture completely derails during the last forty-five minutes when the ship’s crew become affected by their interactions with New York as No. 2’s Ed Helms plans to stage a coup, another turns into a MySpace addict and-- at its most demeaning—one becomes a stereotypically flamboyant gay man worshipping Cher, offering makeovers and snaps at will to the horror of intelligent audience member everywhere.
Since, aside from Dreamgirls and the Shrek series, Eddie Murphy has set the bar so low that it’s now a cliché to even critique him, perhaps (other than its very existence), Meet Dave’s greatest crime is that it completely wastes all of its likable performers including Scott Caan who—although he stars as an X-Files inclined police officer-- seems to have been so uninspired by his role that in his major scene with Murphy in a department interrogation room, he basically does a five minute pitch perfect impersonation of his father James Caan. And while I’d rather sit through Meet Dave again in its entirety than even watch the trailers for Norbit, Pluto Nash, and Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, Robbins may have been much better off compiling a few of these scenes, along with Murphy’s brilliant beginning, and releasing a disc of short comedic skits instead of serving up a film that would no doubt have been ideal fodder for co-writer Corbett’s Mystery Science Theatre 3000.
Although, I guess it could be worse-- if the film had actually been good, it could have caused an ironic trend of men defying the fashion faux pas and digging out those retro white suits so instead of “Da plane! Da plane!” it could have been “Da horror! Da, horror!”