Eddie Murphy’s sci-fi comedy should please younger audiences
Directed by Brian Robbins. July 2008, USA. PG: 90 min.
(Originally published in buzz magazine on 7-14-08)
Meet Dave, a spacecraft from the planet Nil carrying a crew of bit-sized humanoids modeled after the looks of the ship’s captain (Eddie Murphy). His/their mission: retrieve a crumpled-up-paper-ball-sized metal orb they lost in space; then cast said orb into the ocean to collect all of Earth’s salt supply, which will somehow sustain life on their own planet. Enter Gina Morrison (Elizabeth Banks) and her preteen son Josh (Austyn Myers) via a car crash—directly into Dave. After Gina invites Dave to her place to make sure he’s alright, the aliens realize their orb has fallen into Josh’s possession.
The brunt of the movie’s comedy comes from the aliens’ awkward interactions with humans. They don’t know how to laugh, don’t know how to shake hands, don’t understand figures of speech, and can’t tell cats apart from lions or plush toys apart from space invaders. Murphy’s cheesy smile and deadpan stare, along with the aliens’ learning to understand and emulate humanity by trial-and-error, generates some genuine laughs, but far too often the script falls back on cheap jokes about the aliens falling into their appropriate stereotyped roles once they learn more about Earth. One moment the hardened weapons expert is watching his first Broadway musical, the next he’s renamed himself “Johnny Dazzles” and come out of the closet in hyperfeminine fabulosity. It figures that the uptight second-in-command officer is a straight-laced white guy looking to usurp his captain to climb the corporate latter at every turn; that women in the movie are depicted as having an innate nurturing instinct and that men are oblivious to love; that the four-eyed tech geek would become obsessed with MySpace and dating “cougars” nearly twice his age; that an African-American shipmate would become the first alien intrigued by loud rap music while everyone else covers their ears.
In short, Meet Dave’s sense of humor seems to reaffirm essentialist notions that X type of person just naturally acts like Y. Of course, there’s only so far you can read into a movie like this, but Meet Dave started with a lot of potential. What began as a funny take on other species’ perspective on quirky human behavior lost its steam somewhere along the way, following all the typical routes to easy, expected laughs.