Contrary to what its altogether hideous advertising campaign would have you think, the latest collaboration between Eddie Murphy and Norbit director Brian Robbins is not, in fact, the worst movie ever made. Once again featuring Murphy in multiple roles, the film introduces what may very well be the oddest sci-fi concept of all time: Murphy as the tiny, alien captain of a spaceship—dubbed “Dave” for purposes of human interaction—fashioned in his own likeness, with many similarly humanoid aliens piloting the various limbs and organs of Dave’s relatively titanic being. That Robbins’s efforts remain proudly pedestrian works to legitimize the silliness that quickly abounds, not to mention neutering the illogical implications of the premise itself (that anyone could buy Dave’s behavior as even remotely normal is the epitome of suspended disbelief, while even the most aerodynamically ignorant among us know that a humanoid spaceship would be anything but fuel efficient).
Fortunately, Meet Dave never succumbs to the one-joke nature of its premise, though Murphy’s still-expert comedic timing proves sufficiently amusing as the Captain-as-Dave attempts to learn the subtleties of human behavior (an early scene of Dave attempting to mimic various walking techniques is hilarious, a perfect fusion of delivery and context). In keeping with the virtues of a brief running time, the empathetic themes of the story emerge quickly. Believing us to be ruthless, inferior life forms best left to extinction, the visitors are here to suck our oceans dry for the rich salt they contain (the primary source of fuel on their dying home world), but realize, once in our midst, that we are in fact more complicated (and worthwhile) than our violent history might indicate. Quickly, they indulge in the various offerings of our world—from hip-hop to the Internet to a weepy screening of It’s a Wonderful Life—and develop distinctive personalities of their own, a radical departure from the one-mind ethics of their Orwellian society.
Like Norbit, Meet Dave appeals to base forms of humor without resorting to audience condescension, a quality that would make its conclusive morals sufficiently profound were its arguments not so blandly developed. Like Dave, they’re likeable and well-meaning, but too awkward to be taken seriously. With this duo, here’s to hoping that the third time’s a charm.