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MEET DAVE How many times have we moaned about how "all the best parts were shown in the trailer"? Meet Dave takes the opposite stance: Based on the preview, this vehicle for Eddie Murphy looked as if it would compete with The Love Guru in the sheer awfulness department. And make no mistake: What's presented is still pretty bad. But compared to Mike Myers' toxic effort, this almost comes off as Annie Hall by comparison. What the trailer doesn't convey is that Murphy actually delivers a sharp comic performance as Dave, a human-shaped-and-sized spaceship powered by the tiny aliens within. He also plays the diminutive captain of the spacecraft, but he isn't especially memorable in this dry role, spending much of the time alternately wooing a fellow shipmate (Gabrielle Union) and a friendly Earthwoman (Elizabeth Banks), as well as slowly learning that our planet and its inhabitants are capable of offering compassion and beauty and great movies like It's a Wonderful Life. It's Murphy's work as the walking, talking spaceship that's inspired, as the character amusingly reacts to the surplus of confusing information flooding his system (as when Banks' Gina announces that they're eating meatloaf for dinner and the ship's computer brings up images of the burly rocker). Unfortunately, Murphy far outshines the material, which mixes the usual bodily-function gags with the usual last-minute sanctimonious pleas for compassion and open-mindedness. *1/2
WALL-E This animated effort from Pixar is a treat for the young and old alike, although it might end up endearing itself even more to adults than to kids. And it's not just because grown-ups will enjoy the usual asides tossed their way (e.g. a witty reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey; Alien star Sigourney Weaver providing the voice of a ship's computer); it's also because the plot itself will speak to them in a way that it can't to humans who still don't possess all their permanent teeth. For ultimately WALL-E is about nothing less than one of the tenets of human existence: the need to find a partner with whom to share life's experiences. Of course, the switch here is that it's a robot, not a human, who's in need of companionship. WALL-E is the last of his type, a Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class robot who rumbles around a deserted Earth, as all humans have long since abandoned the polluted planet to take up residence in a gargantuan spaceship called the Axiom. (Yes, it's a pro-environment cartoon, and it's no accident that our planet's Public Enemy #1, George W. Bush, is referenced via a CEO urging others to "stay the course.") When a sleek robot named EVE (Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) is dropped off on the planet to search for signs that it might be inhabitable again, WALL-E pursues her like a dog in heat, and once she's ferried back to the Axiom, our intrepid little Romeo determines not to let her get away. I won't reveal any of the action that takes place on the spaceship, but rest assured that the movie retains its comic invention while adding slight degrees of action and menace. And who knew that romance between robots could be so affecting? ***1/2
OPENS FRIDAY, JULY 25:
THE LAST MISTRESS: Asia Argento, Fu'ad Ait Aattou.
STEP BROTHERS: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly.
THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson.