Eddie Murphy. Raw.

That really used to say it all. A comedian known for his brash wit and go-for-broke charm, Murphy used to be willing to say anything to get a laugh. Trading Places. Coming to America. Beverly Hills Cop. Now, he's clearly willing to do anything.

Somewhere along the way, "I believe that children are the future" became not so much a punchline as a personal career credo. He's fallen into the rut of safe family-friendly fare, led on by the likes of Steve "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" Martin and Tim "The Santa Clause 3" Allen, the success of both having come to suggest that the water's quite fine in the kiddie pool. Dreamgirls proved that this man still has a genuine something left in him, and yet, we the world are instead subjected to a little less of that and a little more of Shrek.

Safe. That's what Meet Dave is, and what Murphy never used to be.

Given Murphy's penchant for playing multiple characters, there's a relative amount of restraint in his only playing two characters here: that of a man-sized spaceship and its miniature captain.Why the ship is designed after him -- and why its extraterrestrial crew differs in no way regarding human form or capability other than in size -- I'll not worry about, since no one else on the production bothered to worry about it either. Two Eddie Murphys, price of one, simple math, let's move on.

So our tiny crew lands at the Statue of Liberty and heads for Manhattan in search of an orb designed to suck up our planet's entire salt water supply as a desperate solution to some unclear catastrophe on their own home world. Despite the considerable array of technology at their disposal, the crew has to grow accustomed to and mimic human behavior in order to blend in, thusly offering Murphy plenty of opportunity for broad mugging, swishy finger-snapping, and awkward syntax.

Luckily, the answer hits them in no time in the form of a station wagon driven by widower/single mother Gina (Elizabeth Banks), whose son (Austyn Myers) conveniently possesses what they seek. Assuming the name of Dave Ming Chang (because it's most common, see?) and under a deadline of 48 hours, the aliens must befriend the mother and child enough to seize the orb -- a task which prompts much bizarre behavior among many of the ship's staff...

As with last month's You Don't Mess with the Zohan, Meet Dave is high in concept and budget, but low in brow and ambition, but as with that film, a few snickers escaped my lips against all odds. Unfortunately, they were not as frequent as the occasions in which my eyes rolled back into my skull, searching for whichever little man at my controls had placed me in this seat.

In place of actual jokes, director Brian Robbins (Norbit) and his two credited writers aren't above:

  • Name-dropping the likes of Google, Yahoo!, and MySpace.
  • Offering up an exceedingly stale super-thanks-for-asking gag involving the ship's stern security officer (Pat Kilbane) becoming violently flamboyant after being briefly exposed to a Broadway performance of A Chorus Line.
  • Providing a scene in which the cash-strapped man-suit proceeds to squat out as many dollars and cents as it needs to afford clothing that wasn't inspired by a transmission of "Fantasy Island."

While there's something to be said for seeing someone like Murphy reduced to defecating bills and coins on screen, he seems to be giving the role more kooky restraint than anything else. Whether or not his heart is actually in it, the man seems to be aware that his face above so many others can alone be cause for chuckles.

Banks is similarly adequate as the requisite love interest, Myers is as affable a bully magnet as one could hope for, and as Murphy's same-sized colleague-cum-paramour, Gabrielle Union tries to bring the most spunk to a character that then deals with an emotional struggle that shouldn't surprise 99% of moviegoers. Oh, and as the increasingly unstable second-in-command, it must be said that Ed Helms ("The Office," "The Daily Show") exhibits almost the exact same hostile behavior as he does in those programs, to pretty much the exact same effect.

At the end of the day, Meet Dave is a relatively tolerable movie. It's by no means good, or hilarious, or even inspired, but the effects are convincing enough, the messages are nice and all, and every last performer has seen worse days (and chances are we've already rented those). While I may pity the thudding mediocrity of the whole shebang, I also know that output like this may stave off the likes of another film as mean-spirited and mirthless as Norbit.

Oh, and if ever Eddie gets a marrow transplant for that funny bone of his, do let me know, because for my time and money, that's the man I'd be much more willing to meet.