The tagline for Meet Dave sums up its High Concept. It’s “Eddie Murphy in Eddie Murphy,” literally, metaphorically, exhaustively. Such proud self-absorption — part running gag, part consumer warning — is hardly news for the Murphy Machine, which is, in fact, another concept made exceedingly literal here. As Dave, a human-sized space ship carrying a crew of tiny beings from a planet named Nil, Murphy makes mostly unfunny jokes about robots, cops, aliens, straight coupling rituals, and gay men.
It doesn’t help that Murphy has previously and repeatedly taken aim at all these subjects (except maybe robots). Following a series of movies in which Murphy has played splasticky incarnations of himself (as young man, old man, fat man, fat woman, Chinese man, white man, etc.), Meet Dave provides for an awkward, mostly unconvincing incarnation. Worse, neither Murphy nor director Brian Robbins appears to have gleaned any cultural insights from the public relations disaster of Norbit (though they’re likely pleased with the film’s global take, close to $160 million worldwide). While the very idea/image of Eddie Murphy having sex with Eddie Murphy was gaggy enough, Norbit‘s essential misogyny was disturbing on a whole other level. Meet Dave, infuriatingly, offers no improvement in this department.
Here again, the Eddie Murphy character is lording it over two female characters. The first is Number 3 (Gabrielle Union), one of the teeny crewmembers who makes the space trek to earth inside the big ship named Dave. For no evident reason, she is crushing madly on her captain (played by Murphy). Initially, she seems smart, more efficient, more organized, and more forward-looking than the captain, and yet, she reveals (after several scenes when she gazes adoringly at him from her data-gathering console on the deck inside Dave’s head), she has loved him since they were classmates at an academy back on Nil.
Number 3’s adoring gazes occur during their current mission, which takes them to New York City (by way of Liberty Island, where the ship lands face-first in the ground in front of the Statue of Liberty). “This is the moment we’ve been training for,” exults the captain, as they embark on a search for salt, which they mean to suck out of the earth’s oceans in order to “power [their] world.” First they need to find an orb (shades of Men in Black), essentially the sucking device, which has landed in the bedroom of a boy named Josh (Austyn Lind Myers) and has since become his favorite object to take to school (shades of CJ7). Wouldn’t you know, Josh’s mom, Gina (Elizabeth Banks) is not only single (her husband a dead Navy hero, now serving as an impossible role model for her short, cute, insecure 11-year-old), but also happens to slam into Dave with her wood-on-the-side Jeep Wagoneer.
Gina’s throwbackness is not limited to her choice in vehicle. Her initial outfit is equally quaint, a circa-’70s knit top that sorta sets her up for emotional parity with Dave, whose crisp white suit is based on Number 3’s assiduous research into earth customs, that is, the “only signal” her advanced tech could find, the opening credits sequence of Fantasy Island. Gina and Dave hit it off, though their match only makes sense within the Murphy Machine’s gallumphing gender politics. She’s a touchy-feely, excessively charitable freelance painter, he’s an uptight, patronizing ship’s captain. The movie makes much of their differences, especially as Dave (or more precisely, the crew running him) works hard to keep up with her quirky behaviors and giddy energy, Number 3 feeding him hastily Googled answers to her innocuous questions (when she asks where he’s a captain, he grimaces, smiles, and spurts, “I am a captain of crunch!”).
Meet Dave‘s science-fictionish plot clunks along at just about this pace, with at least three poorly integrated strands shooting off in different directions. While an NYC cop (Scott Caan) pursues what he believes to be an alien life form, Dave engaging in assorted bodily function events (from a ramming down hotdogs at an eating contest to downing mojitos at a salsa club), and the ship’s crewmembers succumbing to an unexplained earthly influence that leads them to abandon their stations. Not only do the mechanics begin to dance and cavort, but the glowering security chief turns flamingly gay — complete with dance moves and hairdresser’s shears — after catching a glimpse of A Chorus Line.
It doesn’t take long before Number 3 seeks a piece of this action. But her redo by the flaming security chief — a new poofty skirt and scary-glam hair — aren’t enough to distract the captain, who’s already distracted by Gina. Try as she might to make him aware of the white woman’s “big ass,” the captain convinces himself that by dating Josh’s mother (as Dave), he’s helping the child, saving earth, and oh yes, keeping Gina from the neighbor who loves her but won’t tell her, the mostly irrelevant Mark (Marc Blucas, still and forever playing Riley). Because Dave/the captain can’t actually fall for a white woman, Mark’s primary function is be emphatically white (underlined by Dave’s imitations of his speech patterns), so that Gina can have something like a happy ending. The fact that her ending and Number 3’s ending are essentially the same — gazing into the faces of socially inept and selfish men — makes plain Meet Dave‘s fundamental defect.