Meet Dave

Meet Dave


Reviewed by: Jeff Robson

Remember when Eddie Murphy was one of the hottest young talents around? Yes, how is the old arthritis these days?

It’s increasingly hard to recall just how funny and charismatic he was in films like Trading Places, 48 Hours and the original Beverly Hills Cop, as the intervening years have brought a slew of Norbits and Nutty Professor 2s. His voice turn as Donkey was a keystone of the Shrek franchise, but it’s a long while since he was centre stage in a project that really brought out his talents as a comedian and – yes, dammit – an actor.

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So it’s a pleasure to report that Meet Dave, while by no means a total career resuscitation, is surprisingly bearable, despite having a ‘back of an envelope’ premise familiar to anyone who’s seen the closing segment of Woody Allen’s Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sex... – or, indeed, remembers the Numbskulls cartoon strip from the Beezer comic (and have you noticed how expensive everything is, too?).

Yes, it’s the old ‘imagine if your body was controlled by a miniature crew that lived in your brain’ idea, surely only omitted from the list of the Seven Great Eternal Stories by a bureaucratic oversight. But the twist this time is that the ‘body’ in question is a spaceship, constructed by the Lilliputian sized (but humanoid, and, indeed, ethnically diverse) aliens of the planet Nil, so they can blend in with the Earthlings during their mission to retrieve an orb sent to save their planet by draining the salt from the world’s oceans (don’t get too hung up on the science!)

Naturally, the orb was knocked off course and now resides in a fishtank belonging to science-nerd kid Josh (Austyn Myers), who lives with his widowed mom (Elizabeth Banks) in New York. So ‘Dave’ the spaceship (Murphy) crashlands on Liberty Island and sets off to retrieve it, piloted by the Captain (Murphy again). Cue much fish-out-of-water comedy as Dave gradually learns how to walk correctly, realises that his white disco suit may not be the best camouflage for Noughties New York, and gives encyclopaedic ‘culturally appropriate’ responses to any questions in an earnest monotone.

No prizes for originality, of course. But fortunately, there is a lot of genuine talent on display here. The writers have a solid track record (Bill Corbett worked on the cult US show Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rob Greenberg is a Frasier veteran) and as well as the obvious physical stuff – John Cleese-esque attempts to master the basics of walking, drinking ketchup for breakfast - there are some nice Galaxy Quest-style riffs on the Captain’s pomposity and inability to understand "these strangely emotional creatures".

He’s helped out by his savvy cultural officer (Gabrielle Union), who has a secret crush on him, and hindered by his even more buttoned-up second in command (Ed Helms). As the Captain begins to feel more of a connection with the Earthlings, and wonders if there mightn’t be a way to save his planet without destroying theirs, Number 2 decides that some decisive action is needed. Meanwhile, a sci-fi obsessed cop (Scott Caan) is conducting investigations at the crash site, and starts to think the truth may be out there...

There are a few too many plot twists, but that does keep boredom at bay, and there’s a good-natured energy to the film that’s hard to resist. Murphy obviously relished the physical comedy side of the ‘Dave’ role, but he’s also surprisingly good at playing a square-jawed leading man type. The supporting cast are equally solid (Helms and Union are sitcom regulars, while Banks is soon to be seen as the First Lady in Oliver Stone’s George W Bush biopic) and play it straight. In fact, one of the film’s pleasures is a Frasier-style collision between the main characters’ earnestness and the increasingly screwball plot developments. Even Myers (making his film debut) isn’t too insufferably cute.

Robbins makes some atonement for Norbit in the director’s chair, keeping a steady hand on the tiller and letting the writing speak for itself. The special effects are pretty impressive and the production design on the ship’s interior is particularly spiffy, a gleaming stylised retro look that recalls classic-era Star Trek. And there’s a refreshing lack of toilet humour – I only spotted two examples, and have to admit to laughing like a drain at both of them.

Not all of it works (there’s at least one climax too many) and the closing scenes have industrial quantities of syrup, as we learn that it’s OK to be different and it’s important to respect the planet etc. And, of course, it is, you know, for kids. Those expecting serious sci-fi should look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for a reasonably painless way to keep the sprogs quiet on a wet afternoon in the summer hols , this is one of the best live-action family comedies I’ve seen since Honey I Shrunk The Kids (another of its obvious inspirations). A few more like this and the phrase “Eddie Murphy has a new movie out” might not sound like a knell of doom.

Reviewed on: 12 Jul 2008
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A spaceship in human form, crewed by tiny aliens, comes to earth to retrieve an orb vital to the future of their planet.
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Director: Brian Robbins

Writer: Rob Greenberg, Bill Corbett

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Elizabeth Banks, Ed Helms, Gabrielle Union, Austyn Lind Myers, Scott Caan

Year: 2008

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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