LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The last time Eddie Murphy visited from outer space, the result was the spectacular 2002 misfire, "The Adventures of Pluto Nash."
In the case of "Meet Dave," in which Murphy pulls double duty as the minuscule commander of a mission from an endangered planet in addition to assuming the guise of its life-size spacecraft, the goofy setup alone keeps it a safe distance from Golden Raspberry territory.
That said, this sci-fi romp seriously skimps on the sort of wacky comedy that should have flown liberally from such an inspired premise -- especially one that was co-written by Bill Corbett, of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" cult renown.
Reteaming with "Norbit" director Brian Robbins, Murphy tries some sharp physical comedy on for size, and though he's terrific (especially as that space ship), too often the Fox vehicle is content to meet the jokes halfway.
Still, like most of Murphy's recent output, the movie aims low -- as in, the targeted pint-sized audience -- and its family-friendly results should translate into some solid summer numbers up on its Friday release.
With his home planet facing extinction, Murphy and his crew are dispatched to Earth to find the whereabouts of a wayward rock that was intended to effectively absorb our water supply.
Assuming the identity of one Dave Ming Chang and taking his wardrobe cues from Mr. Roarke in "Fantasy Island," Murphy (the spacecraft, not the captain) must do his best to blend in with other New Yorkers and gain the trust of the young boy (newcomer Austyn Lind Myers) and his single mom (Elizabeth Banks) who have come into possession of the otherworldly orb.
With that kind of loopy setup (written by Corbett and sitcom vet Rob Greenberg), "Meet Dave" should have paid some pretty handsome comic dividends, and for about the first 15 minutes, it succeeds, with Murphy pulling off the kind of smart physical comedy that channels vintage Steve Martin in "All of Me."
Unfortunately, Dave's space ship isn't the only thing that's running on 20% power.
Director Robbins is too quick to step in the mushy stuff, throwing in prematurely cued maudlin moments with potential love interests Banks and, back on board, with much tinier shipmate Gabrielle Union that constantly stop the funny bits dead in their potential tracks.
With more Dave and less Dave, "Meet Dave" might have really gone the distance.