It says volumes about the state of Eddie Murphy's comedy career that Meet Dave, his latest, is his least hateful film in years. For an actor known for making funs of gays, women, fat people, white people, gays, Asians and homosexuals, that's saying something.
In fact, this banal little goof about tiny aliens who invade the Earth in a spaceship they've disguised to look like Eddie Murphy (with Murphy playing the ship's captain) is downright soft, a movie about humanity's saving graces that amounts to the sweetest thing he's done since Trading Places.
He swaps his fat suits for a white Tony Manero suit from Saturday Night Fever as the spaceship Dave, sent from the Planet Nill to recover an orb that will help them suck all the salt water out of the Earth's oceans for Nillians to use. The Dave crew (Gabriel Union is the lovesick "Number 3" to Murphy's captain) sit inside his head and try to decipher how to interact with "these gargantuan savages," chiefly the lovely Elizabeth Banks, as a widow, and her son, Josh (Austyn Myers). Dave has to learn American colloquialisms and think up quick lies to explain his dated attire (Saturday Night Fever wasn't his inspiration, a TV show was), his robotic, birdlike movements and his cluelessness about New York, America, Earth and the human race.
"I don't get out much."
Murphy manages some vintage bits as Dave -- reciting the BeeGees back catalog, learning to smile, laugh, dance and fit in. Banks and Union give the picture hints of charm.
But everything outside of Dave's Coming to America naivete founders as comedy. The crew become infected by the sass, hipness, sexuality and show tunes of New York, sparking mutiny. Dave gratuitously visits the toilet. A couple of cops ( Scott Caan, in an annoying performance topped by his most annoying hairstyle ever) track the alien they suspect is among us.
None of that works. Nor do such stock situations as Dave's treatment of bullies, his handling of an attempted robbery and the like.
But the Starman/Visit to a Small Planet elements ring true, from Dave's blundered improvisations in social situations to the video everyone on Earth "is forced to watch once each year" (It's a Wonderful Life) which truly explains our humanity.
That's what gives one hope that maybe Murphy, who seemed bitter long before he lost the Oscar for Dreamgirls, can be saved. When he lets go of the hate, the infantile takes over. He can almost remember being challenged by a movie, and being charming when he was.