Early one New York City morning, a neatly groomed, middle-aged man (Eddie Murphy) dressed in an immaculate three-piece white suit comes screaming across the sky and lands face first on Liberty Island. Apparently unhurt, he picks himself up, dusts himself off and boards a Circle Line tour boat bound for Manhattan. "He," it turns out, isn't a man at all but a cleverly camouflaged spacecraft built to look like a (sort of) ordinary earthling and manned by a crew of tiny, inch-and-a-half high extraterrestrial spacemen. Led by their captain (Murphy, again), who obviously served as a model for the spaceship, the crew is on an important mission: Their home planet, Nil, is suffering a catastrophic energy crisis that threatens its very survival, and they intend to drain the watery planet's oceans and use the salt as an alternative fuel source. The fact that saving their own planet will mean the death of Earth and its race of primitive gargantuas means nothing to these highly evolved, emotionless beings. But their plan has already hit a snag: Several months earlier, the baseball-sized orb that was supposed to suck up all that water was bumped off course and landed in the bedroom of small-for-his-age fifth grader Josh Morrison (Austyn Lind Myers), who lives with his young, widowed mother, Gina (Elizabeth Banks), in a New York City walkup. Assuming the name "Dave" and comically attempting to mimic Earthling speech and behavior, the ship, controlled by the captain and his crew -- which includes high-strung second-in-command Number 2 (The Office's Ed Helms) and human-culture expert Number 3 (Gabrielle Union) -- befriends Gina and Dave in an attempt to retrieve the orb. But the bumpy landing has damaged the ship's energy supply, and the Nil-ians have only 48 hours to find the orb before its take-off time.
The film's concept isn't all that different from that of BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, and while inviting such comparisons does this thin comedy no favors, it does deliver a couple of laughs: Helms is particularly funny as the dictatorial Number 2 who has nothing but contempt for Earthlings and their disgusting behavior ("Vaporize the child!"). Unfortunately, they're offset by some painfully unfunny conceits, among them that the longer the crew observes these weak, emotion-ridden humans, the faster they shed their stiff exteriors and become their true inner-selves, which just happen to be clumsy and generally offensive stereotypes. The young, black Number 17 (Kevin Hart) becomes a hip-hop loving hound-dog; Number 2 morphs into a jealous hellcat; and the lantern-jawed security officer (Pat Kilbane) is transformed into a limp-wristed, Cher-loving sissy who insists on being called Johnny Dazzles. Hardly unusual for an Eddie Murphy comedy, but it spoils the otherwise innocuous fun. leave a comment --Ken Fox
To say this high-concept sci-fi comedy is one of the funnier major-studio releases of summer 2008 is something less than high praise: Films like YOU DON'T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN and LOVE GURU, so the bar set pretty low. But aside from some unnecessarily crude stereotypes, Eddie Murphy's least-painful comedy in years has a certain peculiar charm.