Before watching the movie:
I clearly remember the promotion for this movie (it’s still a little strange to have films from about the time I started this blog that are old enough to show up here), but everything I saw indicated that Dave wasn’t a real person but a ship piloted by tiny people for some reason. One of the more intriguing Eddie Murphy vehicle concepts since the late 90s, but since so few of his projects have been well received since he got enough fame to make any movie he wanted, not that compelling. Also I seem to recall the little people were all played by Murphy, which seems to further underscore the artificiality while also playing into his enthusiasm for multiple roles (something I can’t begrudge him for, as when I was regularly making videos I kept writing stuff that let me act against myself too).
However, when I came across this opportunity now, the summary I saw described Dave like he’s a man hijacked in his own body by tiny aliens sabotaging his love life. Everything I assumed may be wrong and I’m now more interested in the story instead of just the concept.
After watching the movie:
A weird meteorite falls into the New York City apartment of Josh Morrison, a bullied kid, and he brings it to his school science class. Some time later, what appears to be an adult man crashes into Liberty Island. In fact, it is a spaceship crewed by people only about three inches tall, on a mission to recover the orb they sent to vaporize the planet’s water, leaving the ocean salt behind for easy collection and return to their home planet and end their salt crisis. The head of the spaceship contains the command deck, where the Captain (who looks exactly like the ship and may have been the model for its outer appearance), second in command Number Two, researcher Number Three, and other Nullians direct the motion of the ship. Completely unfamiliar with human customs, they get hit by a car almost immediately, which happens to be driven by Josh’s mother Gina. Scanning a list of the planet’s most common names, the Captain gives the name of the “ship” as “Dave Ming Chang”. “Dave” asks Josh about the unusual rock he found, and Josh tells him a bully took it. In the course of helping Josh recover the rock and stand up to the bully, the captain, through “Dave”, learns a great deal about interacting with humans and becomes very close with Gina and Josh. Indeed, many of the crew are being influenced by such close contact with humans (who may not be so disposable as was originally thought), though Number Two insists they have a mission to stick to. Additionally, a couple of police officers investigating the Liberty Island fireball are trying to track down the person whose face left the impression they found at the bottom of the crater.
The first thing that stood out to me about this movie was the music. There are composers who have a sound, and then there are composers who have motifs. The main composer I got an ear for was Alan Silvestri, because I heard his tension motif in at least three different movies (though he might have branched out in the last couple of decades because I couldn’t have identified him as scoring Captain America). The wholesome space adventure score running through the movie sounded exactly like the wholesome space adventure score on My Favorite Martian, a lot like the wholesome sci-fi cartoon adventure score on Inspector Gadget, and probably other John Debney movies I’ve heard. That made the score feel generic and therefore cheapened the movie. I’m sure it wouldn’t bother most people, I just happen to both be slightly musically inclined and also count “Martian” and “Gadget” among my top favorite movies.
This was very far from the level of “why would anyone make this?” that it has the reputation of being. It’s definitely a very kids-focused family movie, but the whole cast, especially the shipmates and the mother and son, work pretty well. I was definitely engaged with the dramatic tension onboard the ship, and “aliens failing to blend in” is always a great source of comedy. I would’ve liked a tiny amount more edge, but I’m not the real target audience, someone twenty-five years younger than me is.
Though not anything I’d throw the “classic” label on, I do think this movie was unfairly received. It’s a bit by the numbers, but they’re good numbers and colored in well. Also Dave is often hilarious. A fine movie to watch any time, but not anything to get especially excited about.