July 12, 2008

‘Meet Dave’ in Orbit Above Mediocre: Murphy Plays a Spaceship and Its Captain in One of His Better Family Comedies of Late

By Daniel Neman, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va.

Jul. 12--"Meet Dave" sounds like such a terrible idea for a movie that its amiable acceptability turns out to be a pleasant surprise.

Eddie Murphy stars in multiple roles, as is his wont, especially in family comedies. But this time, neither role is a caricature.

Of course, one of the roles is as a spaceship that looks like Eddie Murphy and crashes to Earth, and then tries to learn how to fit in among humans. Here is where Murphy's facility with physical and vocal comedy comes into play; he has to learn how to walk and how to speak, and how to blend in with human society.

The ritual of shaking hands, for instance, confuses him. And the greeting "Welcome to Old Navy" throws him so much that he repeats it over and over and over and over again, almost as if Old Navy paid a hefty fee to have its name repeated over and over and over and over again.

Not that that's annoying, or anything.

The other role Murphy plays is as the tiny captain of the Murphy-shaped ship. He is the brains (well, sometimes it's brains) behind the spaceship's actions and words, and he is the one who tries to convince the comely Elizabeth Banks that the ship is a human. She's sweet, but not terribly observant. Her son (Austin Lynd Myers), however, catches on quickly.

What raises the comedy from mediocre to slightly above mediocre is the way the ship's crew is affected by the humans they encounter. The crew is generally Vulcanish in the way they are unmoved by emotion, but they hear rap music and a black crew member suddenly learns how to boogie. They see a couple kissing, and a female crew member (Gabrielle Union) begins making moon eyes at the captain. They see a few minutes of "A Chorus Line," and the security officer realizes he's gay.

Yes, the responses are stereotyped. The jokes are aimed at children (which explains the excess of excretion-related gags), but wouldn't it be funnier if a middle-aged white guy got into rap, a man listened to the beating of his heart and a straight guy discovered he likes musicals?

"Meet Dave" isn't great comedy, and it isn't the sort of children's film that will be fondly remembered in years to come. But it's a pleasant enough diversion, and the kids like it. In the family-comedy niche Murphy has recently been claiming for his own, "Meet Dave" is one of his better recent entries.

Contact Daniel Neman at (804) 649-6408 or .


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