The Adventures of Pluto Nash
review by Gregory Avery, 16 August 2002

Pity the poor film that gets labeled a turkey in advance. That's what happened in recent years to such films as B. Monkey, the first film directed by Michael Radford after the hugely successful The Postman (Il Postino), and New Rose Hotel, a William Gibson adaptation that Abel Ferrara knocked off with Willem Dafoe and Christopher Walken (and Asia Argento, who also happened to star in B. Monkey). Currently, M.G.M. is trying to figure out what to do with Killing Me Softly, an erotic thriller that was completed well over a year ago and which is the first English-language film to be made by the celebrated Chinese director Chen Kaige. The film's release date was changed again and again (just like the one for B. Monkey), while word began to spread like wildfire about the uproarious lack of chemistry between the two leads (Heather Graham and the mopey Joseph Fiennes), some of the individual scenes themselves (including a bondage bit that's supposed to involve ribbons and a fireplace mantle), and the ending (in which the wrong character gets fingered for the murders in the story). Too "high-profile" to be dumped directly into the video stores, the film is currently set to be out in theaters, if at all, this coming fall.

Which is probably why Eddie Murphy looks at us so imperiously from the posters and ads for The Adventures of Pluto Nash: go ahead, DARE to think this is not a comedy. Like the aforementioned-mentioned films, it probably started out with high hopes (most people do not enter into the arduous process of getting a movie made otherwise). The story, or what I heard about it, sounded like capable, if not promising, material. And Eddie Murphy certainly does not have to prove anything to anyone, anymore, after his performances in Bowfinger and as Sherman Klump in The Nutty Professor. But, still, Pluto Nash was originally supposed to be out in the spring...of 2001. Could dere be something the matter, Cholly?

Well, aside from the fact that it is a comedy that's not very funny and an action movie that is not very thrilling (and an uneasy alliance, at that), the whole thing is built around a surprise revelation concerning the identity of one of the characters which, when it arrives -- backfires completely, and wrecks whatever is left of the movie (Without giving anything away, I can say that it would have cost a great deal of money to reshoot.) The story rises from the concept that, once it is permanently colonized, the Moon would become a tawdry, neon-lit enclave of nightclubs, hotels, and other divertissements. (We really would end up "polluting the moon", as one 1971 commencement speaker at U.C. Berkeley put it!) Murphy plays Pluto Nash, who runs a sort of Rick's Cafe Americain in one township, until gangsters show up and try to muscle in. While taking it on the lam, Murphy's character shows some nice, easy chemistry with Rosario Dawson, playing a singer who's just arrived "from Salt Lake City" ("Rough place," Murphy replies); his robot bodyguard (Randy Quaid, who's fairly wonderful); and, briefly, his mom, played by the inimitable Pam Grier.

That's one of the movie's problems: when it gets ahold of something that's good (like putting Grier and Murphy together, as mother and son, eluding and fighting it out with hitmen, or having Murphy as the twenty-first-century lunar equivalent of Humphrey Bogart, with a clip from the Cagney and Bogart movie The Roaring Twenties to nick the reference), it lets it go, while, on the other hand, giving us stuff that doesn't work at all (most of the bang-bang stuff, plus some terrible ethnic, and sexist, humor).

There's a considerable amount of talent on view, here -- Jay Mohr plays a nightclub entertainer who starts out as a guy in a kilt playing the accordion onstage and turns himself into Tony Francis, ripping-off Frank Sinatra's "breezy" 1950s persona, the joke being that nobody on the Moon in the year 2078 would notice (Mohr's character sings stuff like "Fly Me to the Moon" and "My kind of town, Moon Beach is/ My kind of town....": it's supposed to sound terrible, in a parodic way, but instead it's just terrible); John Cleese is stuck in the part of an electronic chauffeur, and he doesn't even get one really funny thing to do or say;  Joe Pantoliano plays a hood in charge of a platoon of hitmen, one of which is perpetually cross-eyed; Alec Baldwin puts in an unbilled cameo as an Earthbound gangster.

Surprisingly, Eddie Murphy moves through the film, giving it his best, while at the same time working with a sort of panache and, if I may say so, grace. Quite a difference from fifteen years ago, when he made some pretty shrill appearances in films after the success of Beverly Hills Cop. But, as when he had to swim through the cascade of vulgar humor that seemed imposed on Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, he should get some films that come up to the level at which he is now working, as a comedian and (as another esteemed colleague has already put it) an artist.

Directed by:
Ron Underwood

Starring:
Eddie Murphy
Rosario Dawson
Randy Quaid
Joe Pantoliano
Jay Mohr
Peter Boyle
Pam Grier
John Cleese

Written by:
Neil Cuthbert

Rated:
PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may
be inappropriate
for children under 13.
.

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