"In space, everyone can hear you laugh."
Thus reads the advertising tagline for The Adventures of Pluto Nash, which stars Eddie Murphy as "the man" on the moon, circa 2080. Here on Earth, you may need a radio telescope to detect that laughter, so quiet was the theater I saw the movie in. Of course, there were only three of us, but still.
A project that was put on hold not once, not twice, but several times, Pluto Nash wants to plug into that Men in Black vibe, only instead of "Dragnet" meets "The Jetsons," it's Casablanca meets Blade Runner. Murphy's Nash, a former smuggler who's turned legit, runs a moon-colony nightclub not unlike Rick's CafÃ. And although he's stuck in romantic mode (not his strong suit), the comedian appears ready to play. But the script gives him little to play with, certainly not Rosario Dawson's Dina, a cabaret singer who goes on the run with Nash when the Italian mafia ' yep, dose guys ' come after him. The whole movie's one long chase, one very long chase.
Along the way, various tough-guy actors take turns embarrassing themselves: Joe Pantoliano, Luis Guzman, James Rebhorn, Burt Young. Pam Grier shows up as Nash's mom. Jay Mohr plays a Sinatra impersonator who makes Harry Connick Jr. look like Ol' Blue Eyes himself. And Randy Quaid, in what may be a career-ending performance, is Bruno, Nash's robot/bodyguard. Looking a lot like Daddy Warbucks, only with a steel plate in the back of his head, Quaid tries to put over material that couldn't get a pack of laughing hyenas to crack a smile. And he does a poor job of it! Memo to Quaid: If you haven't done it already, fire your agent and your acting coach.
Director Ron Underwood has done decent work in the past: the underrated Tremors, the underrated Speechless, even the overrated City Slickers. But he shows no feeling for big-budget action-adventure. The movie looks like it's taking place not on the moon but in a Styrofoam factory. And the retro-futurist design is a drab blending of the 1930s and the 2080s. But neither of these would matter if Pluto Nash could find our funny bones. Instead, it comes after our entire skeletons with a sledgehammer. Not since Buckaroo Banzai got lost in space have we been confronted with such determined wackiness. When it was over, I felt like I'd been whacked.