In his heyday, Eddie Murphy’s stand-up act and film roles bristled with a daring, risqué energy and his mega-watt smile was that of an entertainer with a promise. Twenty years ago, when Murphy first flashed that grin on-screen in 48 Hrs., he probably never thought he’d decide to star in something as boring and unnecessary as The Adventures of Pluto Nash.
Is there any other superstar whose slide into lazy mediocrity has been harder to watch? In the last decade, Murphy has made 14 films, and only two – The Distinguished Gentleman and The Nutty Professor — have been legitimate live-action laughers. Pluto Nash is not quite that stage’s low point. That would be 1998’s completely execrable Holy Man. But it’s on the same level as, say, Vampire in Brooklyn.
Murphy plays the titular character, a hotshot ex-con who runs the biggest nightclub in Little America, a city on the moon circa the late 21st century. If you expect any sort of narrative explanation of how or why Little America was erected, or how Nash has $2.5 million to buy the club fresh out of the slammer, you’re barking up the wrong cinematic tree.
After years of success, Nash is offered a $10 million buyout from people representing the enigmatic entrepreneur Rex Crater. Gambling is about to be approved in Little America, and Crater wants to open numerous casinos. Nash refuses the offer, only to have his club bombed and his body targeted for death by Crater’s goons. As Nash tries to hunt Crater down, his long, boring chase continually picks up supporting actors who needed to pay for the recent additions to their homes.
The movie is set in 2087, or approximately 100 years after scribe Neil Cuthbert last bothered to touch up his script. Pluto Nash contains ridiculously boring exposition scenes, purely pedestrian action sequences and a strange fascination with the occasional, random placement of Chihuahuas into scenes. Don’t ask because I don’t think even Cuthbert would want to tell you.
In fact, it seems as though anyone involved with Pluto Nash has tried to absolve himself of any responsibility. Murphy did zero publicity for it, and the film’s delay (it wrapped principal photography nearly two years ago) has been attributed to finishing its “complex visual effects.” I have a bridge to sell to anyone who thinks Pluto Nash’s rote sci-fi CGI is complex.
The stench of the shelf also shows in other ways, namely in the lifeless performances. The luminous Rosario Dawson gets saddled with her second-straight sci-fi love interest part (Men in Black II), but at least Jay Mohr is aptly cast as an unfunny performer with the lamest of gimmicks.
What’s even worse is the parade of listlessness from a who’s-who of character-actor greats. It’s hard to imagine a movie this bad with actors such as Peter Boyle, Randy Quaid, Joe Pantoliano, Luis Guzman, Illeana Douglas and even John Cleese. But this is a bad acting epidemic and patient zero has to be Murphy, who looks as though he’d prefer having hair forcibly pulled from his scalp than make concerted efforts to be funny. Of course, Murphy throws in the occasional mild profanity as an incorrect assumption that mere cussing will send the audience into fits of laughter.
This is indicative of another problem with the film — its tone. It’s yet another movie with PG-rated material puffed up to a PG-13 rating through cursing and some unnecessarily macabre violence, particularly during the film’s climax when one character is violently gunned down and the camera traces his path as he falls into a crowd of onlookers.
The movie does have two funny bits. Watching Quaid, as Nash’s robot bodyguard, whip out two large pistols a la John Woo is a priceless, surreal moment. Whether we’re supposed to laugh at it or be taken in by the “cool” action is unknown. We are supposed to laugh, though, at Alec Baldwin’s cameo, which pays off solely because he does a good-sport move to make fun of himself.
But that 30-second bit isn’t worth the price of admission. Neither is it worth staying up for to catch at around 2 a.m., when Pluto Nash will be halfway through its commercial-extended run on Comedy Central. If you do happen to catch the movie, though, watch for the scene when Murphy strangles himself and realize how sadly apropos it seems.