[Screen It]

(2002) (Eddie Murphy, Randy Quaid) (PG-13)

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Comedy/Action: After a lunar-based nightclub owner refuses to sell his place to the local mob and then sees it destroyed, he sets out to discover who's responsible and finds himself involved in a gangster's plan to take over the moon.
It's the year 2080 and Pluto Nash (EDDIE MURPHY) is an ex-con who's just gotten out of prison for smuggling and has talked nightclub owner and singer Anthony Frankowski (JAY MOHR) into changing his name to Tony Francis and dropping his Scottish crooner act in favor of performing as an Italian. When mob-figure Gino (BURT YOUNG) comes looking for the money Tony owes him, Pluto offers to buy and run the establishment to save Tony's life.

Seven years later, Club Pluto is a hopping place that Nash runs with his associate, Miguel (MIGUEL A NUNEZ, JR.), and gets protection from his vintage model, robotic bodyguard, Bruno (RANDY QUAID). Pluto's doing so well that he offers first-time moon visitor and aspiring singer Dina Lake (ROSARIO DAWSON) a job waiting tables so that she can make money and return to Earth.

On her first day of work, local thugs Morgan (JOE PANTOLIANO) and Kelp (VICTOR VARNADO) approach Pluto with an offer from the mysterious Rex Crater and his right-hand man Belcher (JAMES REBHORN) to buy his club for $10 million. When Pluto turns them down, they blow up his place and then repeatedly try to kill him. Against the protests of his concerned mother, Flura (PAM GRIER), Pluto then sets out to discover who's responsible and get his revenge.

With Dina and Bruno in tow, Pluto gets info or help from the likes of ex-cop Rowland (PETER BOYLE), body alternation specialist Dr. Mona Zimmer (ILLEANA DOUGLAS), smuggler Felix Laranga (LUIS GUZMÁN) and even video chauffeur James (JOHN CLEESE) as he makes his way across the moon and towards Crater's swanky casino resort.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
It may not have taken as long, cost as much money, or involved as many people as did the U.S. effort to put a man on the moon, but Hollywood has finally succeeded in putting Eddie Murphy into a movie set on our closest outer space neighbor in "The Adventures of Pluto Nash."

Filmed years ago and delayed some 16 or so months from its initial release date, it's doubtful this sci-fi action/comedy will have as many people anxiously waiting to see it, as was the case with those various Apollo missions.

Viewers don't automatically flock to Murphy's films like they once did and they simply don't seem that interested in non-historically based ones set on the moon (and Hollywood really hasn't pumped out a great deal of that variety). While many have seen or at least heard of the likes of "Apollo 13" and "The Right Stuff," how many claim to have seen "Moon Zero Two," "Invisible Invaders" or "Cat Women of the Moon" (and its later parody, "Amazon Women on the Moon")?

Although the presence of Murphy and a surprising number of other well-known performers might give this one a little more status than those, it's not likely to inspire a rush of lunar-related films from the studios any time soon. That's because it's really not very good, although I was surprised that it isn't quite as awful as I feared or as atrocious as the poorly crafted trailer makes it out to be.

As directed by Ron Underwood ("Mighty Joe Young," "City Slickers") who works from a script by Neil Cuthbert ("Mystery Men," "Hocus Pocus"), the film is something of a futuristic, moon-based rip-off of "Casablanca." While there are obviously glaring differences between the two films in terms of both details and quality, the story of a nightclub owner refusing to sell his joint to the villains certainly has a familiar ring to it.

Unfortunately - or vice-versa depending on one's viewpoint of such matters - the similarities don't extend much beyond that (unless those Nazis were really robots). Instead, the filmmakers have opted for a comedy/action hybrid formula that just doesn't work that well on either level.

For a purported comedy, the film barely qualifies as funny, if even that, and its various attempts at humor - Jay Mohr ("Pay it Forward," "Go") as a Scottish crooner, the randy robotic bodyguard and his synthetic temptresses, John Cleese ("Die Another Day," "Rat Race") as a snooty, Knight Rider type video chauffeur, etc. - simply don't elicit the laughs and otherwise fall flat on their faces.

The action sequences don't fare much better. Coming off as something of a lame, PG-13 rated version of similar material in the far more exciting, imaginative and natch, bloodier "Total Recall," the various fights, chases and laser battles aren't high tech and polished enough for today's sophisticated and demanding audiences. Yet, they aren't bad or goofy enough to come off as some campy, B movie fun.

Similarly, the film's view of future life and technology isn't terribly clever or imaginative (notwithstanding a certain current N.Y. senator appearing as the face on future, high-dollar currency). Instead, it comes off as lackluster compared to other recent efforts (such as "Minority Report"), which also holds true for the less than remarkable special effects.

As the hero, Murphy ("Showtime," "The Dr. Dolittle" films") delivers a performance that might remind viewers of his appearances in other previous dreary efforts where he didn't and still doesn't seem to be interested in fully participating. Rosario Dawson ("Men in Black II," "Sidewalks of New York") shows up as his female sidekick and potential love interest (although the film never goes far down that line), but she can't overcome a weakly written character.

Randy Quaid ("Not Another Teen Movie," "The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle") appears as the lecherous but antiquated android and may just be one of the more annoying cinematic creations to hit the screen this year. The likes of Peter Boyle ("Monster's Ball," TV's "Everybody Loves Raymond"), Pam Grier ("Bones," "Ghosts of Mars"), Illeana Douglas ("The New Guy," "Ghost World") and especially Joe Pantoliano ("Memento," "The Matrix") are likewise wasted in either inconsequential or poorly conceived roles.

The latter also holds true for the "big" revelation near the end regarding the lead villain's secret identity. Without giving anything away, let's just say it's more than a tad predictable - not to mention horribly contrived - and apparently only present to provide for a "Who's the man?" showdown that's already occurred from moments in both the "Star Trek" TV series and one of its movies (you'll understand if/when you see it).

Certain to leap over the moon and make a quick jaunt to the video stores where it will join a host of other forgettable Murphy flops and/or misfires, "The Adventures of Pluto Nash" is about as fun as watching a moon rock, but certainly less informative or interesting. The film rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed August 16, 2002 / Posted August 16, 2002

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