6/30/08

Meet Dave

(2008, SciFi/Comedy-ish, color)

Put Number Two in my butt!

Rating: *1/2

In a Nutshell:

Miniscule aliens come to Earth in a human-shaped spaceship.

Summary:

[shudder]A tiny meteorite penetrates Earth’s atmosphere and then a New York tenement window, but somehow does not break the fishbowl it lands in. The boy to whom the fishbowl belongs watches in awe as the meteorite absorbs all the water, presumably condemning the unfortunate goldfish to a slow death by asphyxiation.

Shortly thereafter, something else falls to Earth, leaving a crater on Liberty Island. It pulls its face out of the dirt and stands up, assuming the form of a man in a white suit (Eddie Murphy). The apparently indestructible white-suited man jerks himself across the island to the ferry, flailing his arms and legs like a stork. He continues his odd behavior as he navigates the streets of New York City, eventually attempting to cross a road against a light. Of course he gets hit by a car. A distraught woman (Elizabeth Banks) jumps out of the vehicle to see if he’s hurt or dead or something. The man stands up, still refusing to speak. While the woman attempts to dial 911, he makes a break for the alley.

Time for some exposition. Safely ensconced in the alley, the man’s ear slides open to disgorge a tiny figure who rappels the length of the body to the oddly twisted ankle. Inside the bridge, er, head of the man-shaped spaceship, the miniscule Captain (also Eddie Murphy) spouts authoritative Star Trek-ian pseudo-science while his crew rushes to assess the damage. In the midst of the faux technobabble we learn that they’ve come to Earth for the super-absorbent meteorite, with which they plan to drain Earth’s oceans, with which they will somehow save their home planet.

Above the alley, the fishbowl boy looks down and tells his mom there’s another drunk in the alley. His mom turns out to be the crazy driver who struck him earlier. She rushes into the alley with her son to apologize and make sure he’s not hurt, or litigating. The man-ship speaks awkwardly, assuring her that he is not permanently damaged. She invites him up to her apartment for breakfast.

There’s a bit more exposition here, as we learn that crazy-driving mom’s name is Gina, and she’s a widowed artist with a heart of gold. When pressed for his name, the man-ship’s Captain turns to his hot cultural officer Number Three (Gabrielle Union), who searches her databases for the most common name on the planet. The man-ship proudly proclaims that his name is Ming Chang. Upon seeing Gina’s confusion, the Captain quickly alters his ship’s name to Dave Ming Chang. After some awkward egg-breaking and ketchup-drinking shenanigans, it is further revealed that her fishbowl-owning son’s name is Josh, and that he has confidence issues stemming from the death of his father. Plus, he has a neat water-absorbing rock that he’s entering in the school science fair. The Dave-ship excuses himself to track Josh down at school.

Cut to the school in question, where a bully picks on Josh and steals his absorbent meteorite. Cut to the streets of New York, where Dave’s crew has realized that their blinding white suit (copied from an intercepted transmission of Fantasy Island) is now hopelessly out of style. One embarrassing Old Navy sequence later, Dave emerges in modern garb and continues to school. A harried school official mistakes him for a substitute teacher and puts him in charge of Josh’s class. Met with skepticism by the kids, Dave writes a complicated scientific theorem on the blackboard at blinding speed to prove his teaching credentials, and then instructs Josh to follow him out of class.

That's one hell of a parasite.Josh confesses he’s lost the meteorite to the bully. In one to two minutes it’s taken to convey that information, school has somehow ended and the bully is now probably across town somewhere, so Josh offers to help Dave look for him. They check out the bully’s usual haunts at the convenience store, but find robbers instead. Dave accidentally thwarts the robbers with his super strength, but denies being a superhero when Josh asks him about it. Josh says he doesn’t know where the bully is now, but he’s sure they’ll find him at the fair tomorrow. He invites Dave home to play video games and have more tender, expository conversations with his mom.

Next evening, Dave, Gina and Josh go to the fair. After some hot dog eating contest/bathroom shenanigans, he does indeed find the bully in question. A sequence of borderline child abuse and nonsensical wedgie references follows, and Dave recovers his absorbent meteorite. Despite some urging on the part of his second-in-command to just drain the Earth’s oceans and have done with it, the Captain decides to continue his date with Gina and Josh, leading to an unfortunate carnival game sequence, which leads to an expository trip to the hospital (direct contact with electrical current recharges the Dave-ship’s batteries; remember that for later kids!), leading to a dance sequence in a Latin club.

At this point the main plot crashes into a subplot, one I hadn’t mentioned before simply because it wasn’t relevant until now. An alien-obsessed cop has found the imprint of Dave’s face in the crater on Liberty Island, gotten a plaster impression and an artist’s rendering of same, and then faxed it to all the precincts and hospitals across town. Dave’s earlier trip to the hospital tipped him off, and now he’s tracked the man-ship to the dance club and arrested him for... I dunno. Falling face-first on Liberty Island, I guess. While Dave sits in the precinct steadfastly refusing to answer any questions, yet another subplot kicks in when Number Two stages an armed revolt inside Dave-ship’s head, confining the Captain to his quarters. Now under the control of the bloodthirsty Number Two, Dave’s finger turns into a death ray. He leaves the interrogation room, insults Gina and Josh, and then blasts his way out of the station.

Now a third subplot clunks into place when the sultry Number Three rescues the Captain from imprisonment, only to be banished from the ship, only to rush headlong through New York traffic while arguing about their relationship. They eventually climb back into the ship, where they finally override control of the left arm to stop the right arm from throwing the absorbent meteorite into the ocean. They fail, and Earth’s oceans begin to drain. The Captain regains control of his ship, and diverts all his ship’s remaining power to recovering the orb, thus saving the Earth. The Dave-ship falls, its batteries drained. Gina and Josh arrive to exchange tender words of farewell. The cops arrive, and Josh steals a taser to recharge Dave’s batteries. Dave’s mouth hatch opens, and the captain emerges to explain the situation so that everyone can Learn An Important Life Lesson.

Just then The Government shows up to take Dave and his tiny alien crew into custody. They succeed in capturing the Dave-ship, but all the aliens escape in one of Dave’s rocket-powered feet. The Captain smooches Number Three. The rest of the crew cheers, even though their planet will now probably perish horribly without the stolen ocean water.

Thoughts:

Ladies and gentlemen, Eddie Murphy's only facial expression.In case the title of this site hadn’t tipped you off, this is a fan guide with no pretentions to serious film criticism. By extension, I should note that I’m a fan, not a critic, and am thus heavily inclined to enjoy anything created by the objects of my fannish adoration—in this case, Meet Dave co-writer and MST3K veteran Bill Corbett. Because of this, I am going to pretend that Mr. Corbett can be credited all the funny parts of this only marginally watchable cinematic turd, and that the serially tasteless Eddie Murphy and his director Brian Robbins are to blame for the rest of it.

Indeed, for a movie that could accurately be advertised as “From the comedy team that brought you Norbit,” Meet Dave is funnier than it deserves to be. I laughed at it. Sometimes. A little. (Note to advertisers looking for pull quotes, “I laughed at it. Sometimes. A little,” is very much available. So is “only marginally watchable.”) Particular bits that caught my fancy: Dave’s initial choice for the most common name on Earth; the running gag regarding Gina’s horrible driving record; the way the right arm operator’s ill-timed bathroom break ruined Dave’s first attempt at the carnival game. If I shut my eyes and wish hard enough, I can convince myself that Bill Corbett is solely responsible for all the above-referenced moments of merriment.

Using a similar method, I can also convince myself that the story’s disjointed subplots, blatant inconsistencies and nonsensical jokes are all the fault of the other co-writers. So, Dave’s crew can barely make him walk, shake hands and change clothes, but they’re coordinated enough to make him write complex mathematical theorems at blinding speed, play videogames with superhuman alacrity, and fire a ball at a stack of bottles with uncanny accuracy? Which is it movie? He can’t be both a klutz and a highly efficient machine with no reason or transition between the two modes. And what, exactly, is it about Earth culture that virulently infects these alien invaders? More specifically, how does a few seconds of A Chorus Line make someone instantly, flamingly gay? If Fantasy Island is their point of reference, how has the crew of the Dave-ship not learned basic motor skills, or how to greet someone without saying “Welcome to Old Navy”? Who thought that pooping money was funny? Or that hanging someone upside down would give that someone a wedgie? And who slathered the whole thing in that schmaltzy, gooey layer of feel-good after-school special clich├ęs?

Oh, and why does Eddie Murphy keep doing this kind of thing when he obviously doesn’t enjoy it? Steve Martin or John Cleese would have been ideal, but they’ve both more or less retired. Couldn’t they have hired Will Ferrell or Joey Pants or Brendan Fraser or Rowan Atkinson? Hell, even Will Smith or, heaven forbid, Chris Kattan could have done better. Considering the aliens’ point of reference, Ricardo Montalban would have been a funny choice too. (You will note that I purposely did not wish for Robin Williams.)

I guess you could pay to see Meet Dave if you wanted to support Bill Corbett’s initial foray into high-rolling Hollywood screenwriterhood, but the way the royalty agreements are usually structured (with the writers at or near the bottom) Bill’s probably seen all the money he’s going to see out of this greasy, steaming pile. The nicest thing I can say about it is that, yes, it’s crap, but it’s aged, moldy crap. You know, the kind that only smells half as bad as the fresh stuff, and merely crumbles underfoot instead of sticking to the bottom of your shoe. (Second note to advertisers looking for pull quotes, the previous line is also available, as is the next one.) While Meet Dave doesn’t exactly manage to drag Eddie Murphy out of the gutter, at least it drags him to a slightly cleaner gutter in a nicer part of town.