Thursday, March 21, 2013

Famous Flops: The Adventures of Pluto Nash

Hello, and welcome to the real first post in my new series Famous Flops, after I flopped the ball last month by picking a movie (Ishtar) that I couldn't get my hands on without buying it.

Note to self: When you're going to watch a movie that's not very good, make sure you write about it as soon as possible. I watched The Adventures of Pluto Nash over a week ago now, and details are already starting to escape me. And details -- especially outrageous ones -- will be part and parcel to this series, if I want it to be the kind of hoot that will justify me watching these terrible movies.

For starters, I think I will begin each post by telling you what kind of flop this is. In almost all cases, the movie will have been a financial failure, so that's not what I mean here. I mean that there are two very distinct ways a movie can be bad:

1) Outrageously misguided. The movie makes a bunch of howlingly bad choices and is filled with laugh-out-loud moments. ("Howlingly bad" and "laugh-out-loud" are essentially two ways of saying the same thing.)

2) Lame. The movie is not egregious in any single, definable way -- it's just lame.

Needless to say, it's a lot more fun to watch and write about a movie that is outrageously misguided. Alas, that's not the case with The Adventures of Pluto Nash. It's just lame.

That's especially disappointing because I figured it would be outrageously misguided. Eddie Murphy in a goofy space suit, which was a central part of most ad campaigns for the film, seemed like just the start. I expected him to be interacting throughout with a bunch of very poorly rendered CGI aliens and other silly props and creatures. Alas, this was not to be.

The movie is about an ex-convinct named Pluto Nash, who has gained quite a reputation on the criminal circuit as a successful smuggler. Upon getting out of jail, he saves an old friend (Jay Mohr), who owns a dive bar on the moon (the whole thing takes place on the moon in 2080), but can't repay his debts to the mob. Nash agrees to pay his friend's debt seconds before the mobsters are going to pour battery acid down the man's throat, effectively ending his nascent singing career -- and any number of other potential pursuits, such as, you know, living. Flash forward eight years, and Nash has turned the dive bar into the most successful club on the moon -- which puts him right in the crosshairs of Rex Crater, a mobster who wants to buy/take the property for himself. Nash is having none of that. He's also just given a job to the daughter of his old prison buddy who has just arrived from Earth, played by Rosario Dawson.

All of this is presented rather blandly and without any consideration of Murphy's skills as a zany comic. This may be one of the straightest of his roles on film. Rarely is he called on to do any sort of impression or use his rubber face to any purpose. In fact, most Murphy characters that are some variation on Pluto Nash are notable for being so completely above the fray. Not only is Nash not above the fray, he seems to be genuinely concerned by the events of the plot in a way that plays unnaturally given Murphy's talents.

Rex Crater has a number of goons at his disposal (one played by Joe Pantoliano) who make several failed attempts to whack the club owner, leading to Nash and Dawson's character going on the run and getting involved with a number of would-be whacky adventures. These adventures are presented so lifelessly that I barely even remember what any of them were.

The one character I really liked was Nash's robot body guard, played by Randy Quaid. Usually the thing you'd hate most about a movie like this is the sidekick character(s), but the android Bruno is the real exception. He's an obsolete model, which makes him lovably dim-witted in certain ways -- and this is something Quaid can do very well. Perhaps the thing I liked most about the character is that to give him a robotic voice, his dialogue is auto-tuned. Maybe I'm still just a sucker for auto tune, a decade after it seemed like a novelty, but the overall effect was to make this character seem very sweet and charming.

Murphy and Dawson are fine. Really. Remember, this movie is not outrageously misguided, it's just lame.

Oh, Nash does eventually don a spacesuit for exactly one scene.

The Adventures of Pluto Nash didn't offend me, which may be the most disappointing thing about it.

Having gotten out of the gate with a bit of a thud, I'm definitely angling for something outrageously misguided for April. I can't imagine having any other reaction to Atlas Shrugged Part I, the 2011 adaptation of Ayn Rand's famous novel. This movie was supposedly a creative disaster, though neither its critical lambasting nor its poor box office (less than $5 million) prevented Part II from coming out last fall and Part III from being scheduled for next year.

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