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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Eddie Murphy: No one wanted to 'Meet Dave'

Murphydave Eddie Murphy has pulled off an almost unprecedented achievement with "Meet Dave." He's delivered a movie that even 20th Century Fox couldn't market.

Buried in bad reviews, the Brian Robbins-directed "Meet Dave" barely grossed $5 million over the weekend, making it a contender, along with "Speed Racer," as the summer's top flop. For the past several years, Fox has been the marvel of the movie industry, having had more success with more awful movies than anyone in Hollywood. As I noted in my blog last Friday, with the exception of this spring's Dr. Seuss movie, "Horton Hears a Who," Fox has released 16 consecutive movies since last summer that have earned such awful reviews that they haven't even hit the 50 mark on Rotten Tomatoes, the minimal grade the online review aggregator gives for an average movie.

Fox has made money--or at least avoided losing its shirt--with all sorts of drek over the past year. The critics dismissed "Alvin and the Chipmunks" as dim-bulb fare, but the holiday season film was a huge hit. "Jumper" was written off as barely comprehensible action fare, but had a great opening weekend and performed well, especially overseas. More recently, Fox did a perfectly good job of opening the dumb comedy "What Happens in Vegas" and has kept M. Night Shyamalan's hapless thriller "The Happening" alive, so alive that it's managed to top the $140-million mark in global box office.

There have been movies that were so dreadful that they pretty much disappeared without a trace, notably the anonymous thriller "Shutter," the Hugh Jackman vehicle "Deception," and the forgettable spoof "Meet the Spartans." But Fox's investment in those films was minimal, so it avoided taking a bath. "Meet Dave" has a steeper price tag, costing somewhere in the $75- to $80-million ballpark. Even though Fox has a partner on the film, New Regency, it will be hard pressed to make back any money. Fox Co-Chairman Jim Gianopulos bravely told Variety that "Meet Dave" was a "seven-day movie--families can go all week; that's the beauty of summer." The seven-day part was right. After seven days, exhibitors will be falling over each other to boot "Dave" out of the theaters. 

Murphy must've seen what was coming, since he was a no-show at his own premiere. In true Hollywood fashion, everyone made excuses for him, with one of his producers saying he was busy working on another film. The only problem, as various online accounts pointed out, was that the director of that other film, "Dave's" Brian Robbins, was at the premiere himself. So Eddie's alibi didn't exactly hold up.

So what went wrong with "Meet Dave"? And what does it portend for Murphy's career? Here are a few theories:

Even though they're madly envious about Fox's ability to turn lemons into lemonade, rival marketers say Fox made a rare but fundamental misstep with "Meet Dave" by running away from the film's concept. The idea may be dumb--Eddie Murphy is actually a spaceship from a distant planet visiting Earth, taking the form of, well, Eddie Murphy--but at least it's a viable comedy premise, offering Murphy the chance to be a comical fish out of water, doing stranger in a strange land bits of business.

But people who saw the ads had virtually no idea what the movie was about. Whenever I quizzed various potential moviegoers about the film, I got a lot of puzzled shrugs. Even people who'd seen the trailer or the TV spots couldn't grasp the premise. Fox had ignored a primal marketing law: If you have a concept, market to the concept, not away from it.

But Fox seemed uncomfortable marketing the idea of a sci-fi based comedy. In fact, the studio ditched the film's original title, "Starship Dave," for that very reason, even though the title made it far more clear than "Meet Dave" what the movie was about. Fox's reluctance to promote the film's sci-fi nature is actually in keeping with studio Co-Chairman Tom Rothman's long-held belief that sci-fi films and films set in the future are box-office poison. In 2006, the studio had Ben Stiller, Jim Carrey and filmmaker Jay Roach all signed up to do a big comedy called "Used Guys," but got cold feet, killing the project.

Why? Rothman thought it was too expensive. But more important, the studio chief was worried about the subject matter--it was a sci-fi comedy about men living in a women-ruled world. Not long after the project was axed, when I was having lunch with Rothman, I asked him why he was so adamant about dumping the film. He threw a question right back at me. "Can you name one sci-fi comedy that's ever made any money?" When I couldn't come up with an answer, he said, triumphantly: "See!" (I was halfway home before I thought of the perfect comeback: "Men in Black.")

Fox must've thought that since "Meet Dave" is largely set in New York City, not another planet, it could pass the movie off as an earthly delight. But audiences didn't bite. It's another big dent in Eddie Murphy's box-office armor, making you wonder if his lack of popularity inside the industry--where he is viewed as a spoiled, self-absorbed jerk who barely ever bothers to turn on the charm--will soon spread to the outside world.

Murphysolo Murphy doesn't have any get-out-of-jail cards in his back pocket. He rarely does any interviews and as his no-show at the premiere proves, he's not much of a team player. He's managed to rebound from flops in the past, but his act--both on screen and off--is getting stale. He turned in a bravura supporting role in "Dreamgirls," but otherwise, he's spent the last decade skating by, starring in a variety of ambition-free movies. It's sad, because Murphy has all the talent in the world. But when it comes to flexing their muscles, comedians are a lot like athletes--either you use it or you lose it.

The bad thing about a flop is that it quickly becomes somebody's else's problem. If you think Fox is peeved about "Meet Dave's" disastrous opening, imagine what Brad Grey is thinking: Paramount is releasing Murphy's next two films, "A Thousand Words" and "NowhereLand." Maybe the studio should consider having the next premiere at Eddie's house. That way he might actually show up.

Photo of Eddie Murphy in "Meet Dave" from 20th Century Fox; Murphy photo by Gabriel Bouys / AFP/Getty Images.

 
Comments () | Archives (20)

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My wife and I went Saturday to see this flick. We had about 10 others in the early show in Burbank. It was a nice Saturday afternoon film. Enough laughs (more would have been better). Decent plot with a happy finish.

Have I seen better? Yep. Have I seen worse? Absolutely. It was a B-minus movie that I will plan on watching when it comes to (no addtionaly payment) cable.

Win some lose some!

Eddie just doesn't seem to care anymore. He stars in ridiculous, often mysoginistic films that worked when he was in his 20's, but he ain't 20 anymore. He obviously picks his roles for the big bucks. Too bad he's no longer worth the big bucks.

the movie was funny...i have seen a lot worse....we liked it....nothing brilliant but for what it was...they acheived what they set out to do...if anything blame those douchebags in development..who read the script and loved it so much they invested 80 million in it...most of the development nitwits are chicks and chicks know shit...every so often they come up with a hit but they're batting averages are like .050. americans are broke and i find restaurants, movie theaters that we frequent that were once packed are now empty...good for me...i get a the best table like i was...eddie murphy.

Murphy has been phoning in his roles and acting for quite some time. Daddy daycare was a worthy effort only because of his interaction with co stars. Dreamgirls was a break for him that he took seriously he now laughs all the way to the bank but one day soon, he will be begging to work. He is old school and no Jack Black

Didn't SPACEBALLS make money? THE INCREDIBLES? WALL-E?

The genre is replete with wonderful stories that are both hysterically funny and true SF...many perfectly suitable for film adapation (I have two of mine under option right now). Now if the folks responsible for making such decisions only read books, instead of basing all their references on other films....

Is it a bad film, or simply one that did not draw an audience because its premise was not communicated?

Too often good films that don't make money are considered bad. Actors and directors have no idea if a film they enjoy making will reach its audience. That factor is most often beyond their control.

So if it is good, be proud. Don't let $ be that which determines artists' success.

- Arye Michael Bender -

The last truly funny and wonderful film that Murphy made was in 1983. "Trading Places" with Murphy, Dan Ackroid and Jamie Lee Curtis was one of the best holiday set films ever. Even BH Cop #1 was good (1984). That is when Murphy was funny.

It also doesn't help that Eddie Murphy fathered a child w/ former Spice-girl Mel. B. and ditched her while she was pregnant...and since then, he's gotten married to someone else. I know he's not in the spotlight like he used to be...but to his fans, they've had to have heard about this...and there's no way it's helped his reputation.

You've disappointed me! Any sci-fi comedy fan (or movie reviewer) could certainly pull GALAXY QUEST out of his hat!!!!!

 
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