Tag Archives: D-

MEET DAVE

Producer: 
Director: 
Writer: 
Stars: 
Studio: 

D-

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to recall that once upon a time Eddie Murphy was actually funny. Now, except for the occasional uncharacteristic turn like his Oscar-nominated performance in “Dreamgirls,” his work has become virtually insufferable—he’s like a higher-rent version of Carrot-Top or Pauly Shore. The only question he leaves you with is which is worse, “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” or “Norbit”?

Or “Meet Dave”? This gimmicky one-joke comedy takes a well-deserved place in the pantheon of Murphy mega-bombs. No accident, perhaps, that it’s directed by the same guy who helmed “Norbit.” (The fact that Murphy chose to work with him again is ample evidence of a serious lack of judgment.) “Dave” isn’t obnoxious and offensive in the way that “Norbit” was, but it’s equally dumb.

The premise itself is terrible. Murphy plays the Lilliputian commander of a spaceship sent to earth to retrieve an orb that will, when released into the ocean, sap them of their salt, which the mini-invaders need to power their home planet of Nil. The ship is in the form of a huge robot—also in the form of Murphy—that will interact with the locals to find and unleash the orb. In one of those idiotic coincidences beloved of lousy screenwriters, Robo-Murphy, or Dave as it comes to be called, just happens to get run down, and then adopted, by Gina (Elizabeth Banks), mother of Josh (Austin Lynd Myers), the kid who found the device (this in New York, where the odds of that happening are about twenty million to one). Josh and Dave bond as they try to track down the schoolyard bully who stole the orb and Gina becomes interested in the “guy,” too, despite his oddities and quirks. But Dave has sparked the interest of a cop (Scott Caan) who believes in extra-terrestrials and is anxious to track him down.

Meanwhile in the ship the captain, who controls the robot’s voice and movements via his crew, finds himself becoming enamoured of earth ways and wary of the effect his mission will have on the planet. And most of his crew are affected, too. His cultural officer (Gabrielle Union), who’s obviously in love with her boss, gets more obvious about her feelings. Others get interested in Broadway show tunes (cue the gay poses), or hip-hop (ditto ghetto slang), or…whatever. That spurs action by the goofy No. 2 (Ed Helms, of “The Office”), who leads a mutiny to take over the ship and complete the mission.

Most of the supposed humor here arises from the white-suited Dave’s inept attempts to conform to earth customs that are utterly foreign to him. It’s a gag that runs dry fast, but both it and his warming relationship with Gina and Josh might have worked better if the whole picture weren’t directed in such a slipshod fashion. The timing is almost always off—a sequence set in Old Navy (one of too many product placements) is excruciatingly slapdash and drawn-out, and isn’t funny to begin with. There’s also a hefty seasoning of the puerile potty humor designed to appeal to kids nowadays, though since a robot’s involved, of course, it’s all purely mechanical.

The earth-based stuff, however, is positively brilliant compared to the awful scenes on the ship, where everybody is stiff and inhibited until the earth’s freewheeling influences kick in. The material is several leagues beneath sophomoric, filled with the crudest stereotyping and staged in a stilted, overemphatic style that makes the dreary stuff all the more painful.

Brian Robbins’ lackadaisical hand is also to blame for Murphy’s dreadful performance, which is all grins, grimaces and bad slapstick, shot for the most part at too close a range by cinematographer J. Clark Mathis. Union is her usual blandly pretty self, Banks is wasted, Myers isn’t the adorable tyke the producers apparently believe, and Caan comes on too strong. The worst indignity, however, is suffered by Helms, who takes his already-hyper “Office” shtick up several decibels, and Pat Kilbane, as the security officer who goes all swishy.

“Meet Dave” looks chintzy, too, with the inner-ship sets especially bad, as though they’d been purchased from a shuttered modernistic hotel. But it’s all of a piece with what’s played out on them. This is a flat, lame excuse for a family comedy, just one more nail in Murphy’s movie career, and an introduction you should definitely avoid.

THE FALL

Producer: 
Director: 
Writer: 
Stars: 
Studio: 

D-

The sort of egomaniacal exercise in visual overkill that some directors live to make but most viewers will flee, “The Fall” comes off as a self-indulgent variant of “The Princess Bride,” a fairy tale that’s fractured in ways that seem perversely calculated to alienate us even as it tries to draw us in. An obvious labor of love from Tarsem Singh, whose 2000 serial-killer pinwheel “The Cell” was an explosion of style over substance, it’s likely to elicit quite a different emotion from those who suffer through it.

The picture begins with an enigmatic, hallucinatory black-and-white credits sequence in which a horse is being hoisted out of a river from a bridge, set to the strains of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. But the story proper is situated in a Los Angeles hospital of nearly a century ago where Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), a squishy-faced little girl of unspecified ethnicity and indeterminate accent, is recuperating with a broken arm. Her peregrinations around the place bring her to the bedside of Roy (Lee Pace, of “Pushing Daisies”), who, we will eventually learn, is a stunt man injured in a jump for a silent Western movie—the result of which was shown in the prologue.

Roy regales the tyke with an elaborate story from which we’re shown episodes in extravagant dreamlike style—the girl’s vivid imaginings, in which actual people she knows assume the fictional roles in the narrative (see “The Wizard of Oz” for the template). In it, Roy himself plays the Black Bandit, an adventurer who teams up with a weird assortment of comrades—an African slave (Marcus Wesley), an Italian explosives expert (Robin Smith), an Indian fakir (Julian Bleach) and Charles Darwin (Leo Bill)—to escape from the island on which they’ve been marooned by their common foe, Governor Odious (Daniel Caltagirone) and wreak vengeance on him. In the process they’ll kidnap his fiancee (Justine Waddell).

Eventually Alexandria turns up in the fairy-tale too, inserting herself as the daughter of the Black Bandit, who saves him and his oddball posse after they’ve been captured by the villain’s army. But the story turns very sour, in the real world as well as the fictional one, when it turns out that Roy is driven by demons of his own, arising from a romantic triangle on the set of the Western, and had a distinctly dark motive in befriending Alexandria. Despite that there’s a happy ending of sorts, which exalts silent slapstick comedy in a scene that’s reminiscent of “Sullivan’s Travels” and ties in with the movie’s title. But even the attempted injection of warmth doesn’t raise the temperature of what’s basically a coldly calculated piece of whimsy.

Tarsem, as the director simply calls himself, doesn’t really seem much interested in any emotional connection with the audience, anyway. What’s obviously most important to him is contriving and executing amazing flights of visual fancy. And there are plenty of them here, from that initial bridge scenes to set-pieces shot on fabulous-looking locations all over the world (including Turkey, South America, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe), and featuring such sights as elephants swimming through crystal-blue waters (seen from below) and dervishes whirling about on the balconies of ornate multi-story courtyards. Individually these are frequently striking, but their effect is more to distance us from the film than to draw us into its world. It’s like looking at pictures in an art gallery that you might admire but don’t want to get too close to.

What little humanity there is in the picture comes from Untaru and Pace, who both pour on the charm. But Tarsem’s manipulative approach makes even their contributions seem forced and precious. In the end the director’s strenuous attempt to play auteur results in a cinematic pratfall that’s a lot less enjoyable than the ones that Buster Keaton and his ilk did in the sort of pictures that “The Fall” pretends to celebrate.